Ivan Bates wins Democratic primary for Baltimore state’s attorney, ending Marilyn Mosby's hopes for 3rd term

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BALTIMORE — Defense attorney Ivan Bates has won the Democratic primary for Baltimore’s top prosecutor, defeating incumbent State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who will leave the office after two terms.

The Associated Press called the race in favor of Bates on Friday evening. In his second bid to become state’s attorney, Bates, 53, moves on to face defense attorney and former prosecutor Roya Hanna in the general election. Hanna dropped out of the Democratic primary to run as an independent in November. Baltimore has elected a Democrat to the office in every election since 1899. The position pays about $248,000 annually.

“We have a lot of work to do for the city,” Bates told supporters at an election-night event. “We made a lot of promises and plans. One of the things I don’t like to see is politicians who promise to get into office forget the people. I didn’t run because I wanted another position; I ran because we can make a change in our city.”

His victory is a reversal from the 2018 primary, which featured the same candidates but saw Mosby trounce Bates and Thiru Vignarajah.

But this time was different. Mosby, under federal indictment since January, came into this election vulnerable. While mounting a highly public legal defense against perjury and mortgage fraud charges, she managed an office battered by prosecutor attrition and launched a late campaign against opponents who raised more money than she did.

Mosby, 42, was part of a new wave of progressive prosecutors who sought to address the systemic racial inequities in America’s criminal justice system. She quit prosecuting minor offenses like drug possession, trespassing and prostitution — which disproportionately impacted poor Black residents. She significantly bolstered resources for crime victims.

In many respects, Bates promised on the campaign trail to roll back some of those changes. He promoted a tough-on-crime prosecution plan and vowed to undo many of Mosby’s policies, if only to revive diversion programs in the courts for the low-level offenders Mosby chose not to prosecute. He said he would rebuild law enforcement partnerships that he accused Mosby of eroding.

“Crime is out of control. If you really want to make a change, give me a chance,” Bates said on election day. “I ran on ‘if you have an illegal gun, you’re going to go to jail.’”

Mosby took office in 2014 at 34 years old, winning in a shocking upset over incumbent Gregg Bernstein despite never having prosecuted a rape or murder case. Mosby made national headlines in 2015 when she charged six Baltimore police officers for the in-custody death of Freddie Gray — none of those prosecutions resulted in convictions.

Warren Brown, a prominent defense attorney and loyal Mosby supporter, said he views Mosby as a courageous leader who challenged the status quo of law enforcement but became a “lightning rod” because of it, facing backlash almost from the outset. He disagreed with her decision to charge officers involved in Gray’s death, and believes Mosby was never able to crawl out of the shadow of that choice.

Still, he said, he admires “her steel.”

“If you stop, as she did, to challenge some of the underpinnings of the law enforcement and criminal justice system, you become a pariah, you become persona non grata, anathema to the establishment,” Brown said in an interview.

“She’s been under attack now since three months after she was first elected,” he added.

Mosby unseated Bernstein by promising to bring down murders in Baltimore, only to see the city’s homicide rate skyrocket during her tenure. There have been more than 300 homicides every year Mosby has been in office, with the city on pace to mark that morbid milestone for the eighth year in a row. Lately, she has said she can’t be judged by violence on the streets, only her office’s performance in the courtroom after a crime is committed.

Though Mosby faces criminal charges, she had the advantage of being an incumbent elected prosecutor, who “rarely face opposition and rarely lose when they do,” said Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs.

He added that well-funded campaigns like Bates’ and Vignarajah’s mitigate some of the advantages of facing an incumbent.

He expects persistent violence hurt Mosby’s chances.

“Voters (were) clearly looking for change,” Hartley said in a text message.

Vignarajah ran on a similar platform to Bates, but brought his trademark detailed plans for different crime issues: carjackings, murders, squeegee workers. Though he brought name recognition to his third bid for public office in four years — twice for state’s attorney, once for mayor — his campaign may have been derailed when The Baltimore Sun reported July 6 he abused and harassed subordinates, most of them women, Hartley said.