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 Friday evening in favor of Bates.
Bates, 53, led the election the entire way, winning 39.8% of the vote as of Friday. Former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah is in second with 30.4% of the vote. Mosby is in third, with 29.8%.
“I just thank the citizens of Baltimore,” Bates told The Baltimore Sun on Friday night. “I’m truly humbled to have this opportunity. I will work twice as hard. I will work harder than I ever had so that we can have a safer city. It’s not just about my daughter now, it’s about all the children in the city.”
Bates said repeatedly on the campaign trail he was running in part to make the city safer for his 6-year-old daughter.
His victory is a reversal from the 2018 primary, which featured the same candidates but saw Mosby trounce Bates and Vignarajah for her second term.
In his second bid to become state’s attorney, Bates 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 1920. The position pays about $248,000 annually.
Mosby and Vignarajah conceded the election to Bates Saturday.
“The opportunity to serve this city and the strong resilient people of Baltimore is the greatest blessing of my life and I am forever appreciative,” Mosby said in a statement Saturday morning, and that her office is “prepared to facilitate a smooth and orderly transition .”
Mosby, 42, came into this vulnerable election after being indicted on federal criminal charges in January. 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.
When first elected, Mosby 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 all of Mosby’s prosecutorial 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 rebuild law enforcement partnerships that he accused Mosby of eroding.
“It’s not going back to the days of tough on crime, it’s being smart on crime,” Bates said. “We have to hold people accountable.”
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 his 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 Vignarajah brought name recognition to his third bid for public office in four years — twice for state’s attorney, once for mayor — Hartley said his campaign may have been derailed when The Baltimore Sun reported July 6 he abused and harassed subordinates, most of them women .
“Baltimore faces monumental challenges and we will all need [Bates] and his incredible team to be the best they can be,” Vignarajah said in a statement Saturday.
He also thanked Mosby for her service, saying that her legacy will not be defined by her critics, but as what she achieved as state’s attorney.
He added: “While I know finishing second and falling just short of our goal is of little comfort to our supporters, please know we will keep fighting for Baltimore until the promise of a safer and more just city becomes reality.”
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Brown said Bates has a lot of work to do to make good on his campaign promises.
“My condolences really go out to him,” Brown said. “He’s the dog that caught the car. Okay, now what are you going to do?”
Bates made plenty of promises on the campaign trail, though he stayed away from the ambitious timelines Vignarajah tied to his pledges.
If elected in November, Bates will inherit a state’s attorney’s office down 70 prosecutors compared to 2018 staffing levels. He has said it could take up to a decade to restore the office, long viewed among the most prestigious in Maryland, to prominence.
Defense attorney and Bates supporter Latoya Francis-Williams said Bates’ considerable legal experience will help him hire talented lawyers.
“Hopefully under the Bates administration we will have trained line prosecutors and people who are willing to come back to the realm of public service,” Francis-Williams said.
Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed research to this article.