By JOE MURCHISON
This is part of a series of profiles of candidates in Laurel’s mayoral race.
From his mid-teens on, Martin Mitchell has been fascinated by politics.
His favorite class at Laurel High School was Advanced Placement government. He watched news on TV and raised political issues in casual conversations with his peers. He wrote poetry, mostly about political events such as the U.S. invasion of Iraq or, as he put it, “Bush going to war for oil.”
Mitchell’s fascination continued in college; he majored in political science, had legislative internships in Annapolis and the District, and held a leadership role in a Young Democrats organization. Now, in his working life, Mitchell is a political consultant. So it’s no surprise that he ran successfully for Laurel City Council’s At Large seat in 2021 and now has his eye on being mayor.
Mitchell, 33, spent his early childhood on Long Island, N.Y., living with his mother and near his grandparents. His mother worked in information technology. His grandfather was an immigrant from Barbados who worked two jobs, one in school maintenance and a second as a porter for the New York subway. “He was always a hard worker,” Mitchell said. His grandmother was a school teacher.
Mitchell moved to Laurel with his mother and grandparents when he was in first grade. Mitchell’s mother worked here as a systems analyst for a number of employers, including T. Rowe Price and the National Institutes of Health.
At Deerfield Run Elementary and Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle schools, Mitchell was sometimes a target of bullies because he was small, having been born prematurely. But he had the self confidence to go his own way. In middle school, he wore a suit to school once a month to practice looking professional. “If it’s something everybody is doing, I try to do something else,” he said. “I had tough skin, I tell you that.”
During his freshman year at Laurel High, he got in a fight with a fellow student, and it changed his life. An administrator gave him two options: “’You either join the [wrestling] team or have a three-day suspension.’” Mitchell wrestled that year in the 80-lb. class and lost every match. “I was 0 and 15,” he said.
But he loved the sport, which accommodated competitors of all sizes and emphasized individual achievement. In the next three years, he lifted weights, entered dozens of off-season tournaments in nearby states and, by his senior year, had a 27-1 record and placed third in the state in the 125-lb. class.
Mitchell kept busy with other activities as well. He helped coach wrestling at the Laurel Boys and Girls Club. He joined the school debate team: “that was really fun, changing people’s opinions,” he said. He also worked at Applebee’s restaurant. The summer after graduating, he sold cutlery, sometimes wearing a suit as he rode his bicycle to appointments.
He went off to college at American International University in Massachusetts and then, the second year, to Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. But expenses prompted him to return home to attend the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) for his third year. Again, he kept busy, wrestling for the university, participating in the Model United Nations program, volunteering for a state legislative candidate’s campaign, helping coach wrestling at Laurel High, and working at UPS and as a roofer. “My day would be hectic,” he said. “Some days I would wake up super early, at 4 a.m., and go work [doing roofing] till 11 a.m.”
In his second year at UMBC, he hit his peak as a wrestler, placing third in a national tournament in the 149-lb. class. But he said financial constraints forced him to suspend his education in 2013 for two years to work full-time at jobs ranging from construction to retail.
In 2015, he returned to college, this time at Bowie State University. “There was a level of concern for you as an individual that I didn’t necessarily feel from the other institutions,” he said.
At Bowie State he helped revive the Maryland Student Legislature program, through which students participated in mock legislative sessions. “I remember drafting legislation to legalize sex work,” he said (the bill did not pass). He also interned for two state delegates during winter General Assembly sessions. He joined the Prince George’s County Young Democrats, eventually becoming president. In 2016, he became the father of twin sons, in whom he takes great pride and co-parents with their mother.
After graduating in 2017, Mitchell did an unpaid internship for Congressman Steny Hoyer, filing constituent concerns on a spreadsheet. He said he learned “there are some crazy people, but you have to respond with kindness and love.” He then took a job with Prince George’s County lobbyist Tony Perez. Mitchell lobbied for the Prince George’s County Council, one of Perez’s clients, encouraging state legislators to support the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, an expansive plan to improve public education. He helped Kaiser Permanente, another of Perez’s clients, market its health-care insurance plan to county school employees.
In 2019, Mitchell began working for a political direct-mail company. “It gave me another aspect of campaigning,” he said. He soon left to become constituent-service director for former County Councilmember Todd Turner (District 4). He launched his own political consultancy in 2020, helping candidates in Washington, D.C. campaign for local office. He also has advocated for clients on Maryland legislation to legalize recreational marijuana and legalize medical aid in dying.
As a city councilmember, Mitchell has led the charge for tenants’ rights, including seeking a cap on rent increases that the county passed this year and helping employees of the Laurel Department of Public Works unionize.
If elected mayor, Mitchell said he would consider hiring a manager to promote Main Street’s development, repair overlooked city streets, provide communications in Spanish as well as English, and continue to support tenants’ and workers’ rights.
“I think I’m happiest about different groups realizing they have power,” Mitchell said.