Defense attorney Ivan Bates has won the Democratic primary for Baltimore’s top prosecutor, beating incumbent state attorney Marilyn Mosby, who will leave office after two terms.
The Associated Press called the race Friday night in favor of Bates.
Bates, 53, led the election all the way, winning 39.8% of the vote as of Friday. Former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah is second with 30.4% of the vote. Mosby is in third place with 29.8%.
“I thank the people of Baltimore,” Bates told The Baltimore Sun Friday night. “I am really honored to have this opportunity. I’m going to work twice as hard. I will work harder than I ever have so we can have a safer city. It’s not just about my daughter now, it’s about all the kids in town.”
Bates said repeatedly on the campaign trail that he partly walked to make the city safer for his 6-year-old daughter.
His win is a reversal from the 2018 primaries, which saw the same candidates but defeated Mosby Bates and Vignarajah for her second term.
In his second bid to become state attorney, Bates goes on to include attorney and former prosecutor Roya Hanna in the general election. Hanna dropped out of the Democratic primary in November to run as an independent. Baltimore has elected a Democrat to office in every election since 1920. The position pays approximately $248,000 annually.
Mosby’s campaign said she will make a statement on Saturday. Vignanajah did not respond to a request for comment Friday night.
But this time it was different. Mosby, 42, came vulnerable in this election after being indicted in January on federal criminal charges. While mounting a very public legal defense against perjury and mortgage fraud, she headed an office battered by prosecutor exhaustion and launched a belated campaign against opponents who had raised more money than she had.
When he was first elected, Mosby was part of a new wave of progressive prosecutors seeking to address the systemic racial inequalities in the American criminal justice system. She stopped prosecuting minor offenses like drug possession, trespassing and prostitution — which disproportionately hit poor black residents. It significantly strengthened resources for crime victims.
In many ways, Bates promised during the campaign to roll back some of those changes. He promoted a plan for criminal prosecution and promised to undo all of Mosby’s prosecution policies on his first day in office, if only to revive diversion programs in the courts for the low-level offenders Mosby chose not to prosecute. He said he would restore the law enforcement partnerships he accused Mosby of eroded.
“It’s not going back to the days of hard crime, it’s being smart about crime,” Bates said. “We have to hold people accountable.”
Mosby took office in 2014 at the age of 34 and won 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 indicted six Baltimore police officers for the death of Freddie Gray in custody — none of those charges resulted in convictions.
Warren Brown, a prominent defense attorney and staunch Mosby supporter, said he sees Mosby as a courageous leader who challenged the law enforcement status quo but became a “lightning rod” in the process, facing backlash almost from the start. He disagreed with her decision to charge agents involved in Gray’s death, and believes Mosby could never emerge from the shadows of that choice.
Still, he said, he admires “her steel.”
“If you stop, as she did, to challenge some of the foundations of the law enforcement and criminal justice system, you become a pariah, you become persona non grata, an abomination to the establishment,” Brown said in an interview.
“She has now been under attack since three months after she was first elected,” he added.
Mosby dethroned Bernstein by promising to stop the Baltimore murders, but saw the murder rate skyrocket during her tenure. More than 300 murders have been committed each year, Mosby has served in office, and the city is on track to mark that morbid milestone for the eighth year in a row. Lately, she has said that she cannot be judged by street violence, only by her office’s actions in court after a crime has been committed.
Although Mosby faces criminal charges, she had the advantage of being a sitting elected prosecutor, who “rarely meets with opposition and rarely loses,” said Roger Hartley, dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore.
He added that well-funded campaigns such as those of Bates and Vignarajah mitigate some of the benefits of an incumbent operator.
He expects continued violence will 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 with him his signature detailed plans for various crime issues: carjackings, murders, squeegees. Although Vignanajah brought brand awareness to his third run for public office in four years — twice for state attorney, once for mayor — Hartley said his campaign may have been derailed when The Baltimore Sun reported on July 6 that he had subordinates, most of them women, had been abused and harassed.
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Brown said Bates has a lot of work to do to deliver on his campaign promises.
“My condolences really go out to him,” Brown said. “He’s the dog that took the car. Okay, what are you going to do now?”
Bates made a lot of promises on the campaign path, though he stayed away from the ambitious timelines that Vignanajah pinned to his promises.
If elected in November, Bates will inherit the office of a prosecutor, down from 70 prosecutors compared to 2018’s workforce. He has said it could take up to 10 years to fill the office, which has long been considered a of the most prestigious in Maryland, back to the fore.
Defense attorney and Bates supporter Latoya Francis-Williams said Bates’ significant legal experience will help him hire talented lawyers.
“Hopefully under the Bates administration we have trained prosecutors and people who are willing to return to the realm of public service,” Francis-Williams said.
Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.