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This time around, anti-Mosby sentiment may have propelled Bates to victory

Defense attorney Ivan Bates, who is perhaps best known for representing several individuals who were targeted by members of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force, ran on a platform of addressing repeat violent offenders while avoiding criminalizing poverty. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

With mail-in ballots still to be counted, Ivan Bates has taken a substantial lead in the Democratic primary for Baltimore’s state’s attorney, with incumbent Marilyn Mosby and former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah trailing behind. 

Bates, a defense attorney and former employee of the city’s State’s Attorney’s Office, is ahead by over 4,000 votes with 41%. In second place, Mosby holds 32% of the vote and Vignarajah lags in last place with 26%.  

Bates and Vignarajah both challenged Mosby in 2018, when she last sought reelection. The two men split the vote, leaving Mosby with a clear victory and a second term in office. 

But as votes began coming in Tuesday night, Bates appeared poised to break that cycle. The defense attorney, who is perhaps best known for representing several individuals who were targeted by members of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force, ran on a platform of addressing repeat violent offenders while avoiding criminalizing poverty. 

Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University, believes that this year’s results differ from 2018’s due to city residents’ continually declining view of Mosby — a Gonzales poll, released in early July, showed that 51% of those surveyed disapproved of her job performance.

Recent news accounts regarding Vignarajah’s purportedly harsh treatment of staff, as well as a slate of endorsements for Bates, likely contributed towards the anti-Mosby vote skewing so heavily towards the latter candidate, he said. 

Maryland Del. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore, a supporter of Bates, said he was “not surprised (Bates) is winning at this stage of the election.” 

“I think that Ivan built a pretty broad coalition across all areas of the city that want to see a functioning state’s attorney office, which should not be a high bar but has been a high bar for some time,” he said.

The election is a referendum on Mosby’s record, which has faced attacks from all sides. As violent crime pummeled Baltimore during her tenure, politicians on both sides of the aisle have blamed Mosby’s policies and management style for the persistent problems. The Baltimore Sun and The Baltimore Banner both reported earlier this year that the State’s Attorney’s Office had been crippled by staff departures and turnover. 

Mosby herself is under federal indictment on charges of perjury and making false statements on loan applications, an ongoing saga that added yet another obstacle to her bid for a third term. 

Mosby is set to face trial in September. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include allegations that she falsely claimed pandemic-related financial hardships in order to withdraw money from her city retirement account and made a variety of false statements when she applied for mortgages on two Florida vacation properties. 

Clippinger said that he found that, while knocking on doors for Bates in his district, most voters had made up their minds: They wanted Mosby out of office.  

“There were people who wanted to see a change, and it just became a running conversation between the two candidates and who they thought would be better,” he said. 

Mosby’s opponents largely steered clear of the indictment as they sought to block her reelection. Both homed in on Mosby’s record in office, including her decision during the pandemic to halt prosecution of minor offenses, such as prostitution and drug possession. 

Vignarajah, a former deputy attorney general in Maryland, faced allegations during the campaign that he was abusive toward subordinates at previous positions, including at the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. 

In 2014, Mosby herself initially won the position of state’s attorney in an upset, beating out incumbent Gregg Bernstein on a platform that revolved around targeting violent repeat offenders as well as improving the relationship between the state’s attorney’s office and the Baltimore community. 

According to Crenson, the public perception of the three candidates played a bigger role in the election than their policy ideas, with all three focused on reducing gun violence and murders, which are set to reach record numbers this year. Bates described his approach to tackling violent crime as a “data-driven focused prosecution of violent repeat offenders and illegal gun possessors, users, and traffickers.”  

The unusually high-profile nature of the race stemmed from both Mosby’s recent indictment, as well as Mosby having gained national notoriety dealing with the falling out from the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015, Crenson said. 

“She’s always been a much more high-profile officeholder than some of her predecessors as state’s attorney,” he said. 

Crenson said that he expects mail-in ballots, which can begin to be counted on Thursday, will continue to favor Bates.  

If he wins, Bates will face off against Roya Hanna, a former Baltimore assistant state’s attorney who dropped out of the Democratic race to run as an independent in November’s general election. Crenson said Bates would have a good chance against Hanna, largely due to name recognition and the attention that ousting Mosby would earn him. Additionally, voter registration in the city is heavily tilted toward the Democrats.

Two other incumbent state’s attorneys also found tough going in this year’s primaries. In Baltimore County, longtime State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger is in a dead heat with progressive challenger Robbie Leonard in the Democratic primary. In Harford County, State’s Attorney Albert Peisinger has fallen far behind Alison Healey for the GOP nomination.

Daily Record legal affairs reporter Madeleine O’Neill contributed to this story.