The race for Baltimore State’s Attorney has become one of the most contentious in the city’s history, and it’s anyone’s guess who will win the top prosecutor’s job.
The tension was quickly evident in last week’s debate, with incumbent Marilyn Mosby touting her experience and charging that her competitors spread false information about her.
“We talk about prosecutorial experience,” said Mosby during the debate. “I have more prosecutorial experience than the two of them.”
There was Ivan Bates, a former prosecutor turned defense lawyer, as attack dog, railing about the turn-over in the State’s Attorney’s office since Mosby won the job.
“When I look at the state’s attorney’s office I look at an office that in the past three years has lost 105 seasoned prosecutors,” said Bates.
And Thiru Vignarajah, another former prosecutor and now litigation partner at DLA Piper, an international law firm, pushing back on Mosby and Bates.
“Baltimore is at a moment in its history where we don’t need a defense attorney, we don’t need a politician, we need a proven prosecutor,” said Vignarajah.
Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins political science professor and author of Baltimore: A Political History, says the race is heated partly because of Mosby’s high profile and also because of its complexities.
“There are so many issues in this debate that the voters have just become stunned,” says Crenson.
And many of the issues center not on the state’s attorney’s office, but on the city police department. There’s the soaring homicide rate, the systemic police corruption revealed in the Gun Trace Task Force case and the revolving door in the police commissioner’s office.
Crenson says with the majority of voters undecided in this race, “I think people are going to want to see some change here. A new way of doing business; in order to be reassured the homicide rate is going to go down.”
With early voting starting today, and the primary in less than two weeks, Crenson says there’s no clear winner and the closing campaigns are crucial.
Mosby has harnessed her popularity and name recognition with big-name endorsements from Maryland Senator Elijah Cummings and singer, songwriter, and activist, Common.
Vignarajah countered last week with relatives of homicide victims who endorsed him.
Mosby responded with a press release.
“I understand how frustrating this process can be for these families and I appreciate their understandable anger,” she wrote.
She noted she has won grants to increase services to victims and witnesses to crime and advocated for increased yearly funding from Annapolis for relocation services.
Mosby received the support of more than 60 clergy and faith leaders Tuesday. Dr. William Calhoun, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, assailed her opponents’ criticisms of her.
“I don’t like this kind of Trump-mentality that alters the facts and so we know that the truth will eventually win,” says Calhoun.
Bates has argued that Mosby’s claim of a 92 percent conviction rate is inflated, and Monday won the Baltimore Sun’s endorsement, partly based on conviction rates that have dropped since Mosby took office.
That brought immediate criticism from Mosby and Vignarajah, who say Bates’ claims of a 100 percent conviction rate when he was prosecuting homicides as an assistant state’s attorney under Patricia Jessamy misrepresents his record.
Which lead to a fiery response from Bates during a campaign event at his office on York Road.
“If you want to say in looking at my record because I dismissed two cases against two individuals who should have never been charged that, that means that I don’t have an undefeated record then fine say that,” says Bates. “But let me say this. I will never prosecute a person that I think is innocent because I want to hold onto a record.”
So, these questions remain. Will the argument over conviction rates matter? Will the endorsements make any difference? And will Bates and Vignarajah split the anti-Mosby vote leading to her reelection? Because with two weeks to go, it’s still anyone’s race.
Ben Spier contributed to this reporting.