In 2014, Baltimore residents, frustrated by violent crime, elected a 34-year-old insurance attorney who had never tried a homicide or rape case to be the city’s top prosecutor.
Eight years and more than 2,500 homicides later, Democratic voters in the city ousted Marilyn Mosby as Baltimore state’s attorney, choosing defense attorney Ivan Bates in Tuesday’s primary.
Mosby’s campaign declined a request for an interview. In a statement, Mosby conceded and said she called Bates on Saturday morning to congratulate him.
“I am grateful to my family and my colleagues in the State’s Attorney’s Office for their commitment to our city and all of their hard work on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore,” Mosby said. “We have so much to be proud of and I am forever indebted to so many people for their love, support and partnership over the past eight years.”
His tenure was polarizing and will be remembered for his progressive police prosecution and prosecution policies as much as investigations into his conduct. There is a litany of reasons why individual voters chose not to nominate Mosby for a third term, but supporters and critics have pointed to his frayed relationships with other city and state agencies, an inability to reduce violent crime and perceived vindictiveness toward those who disagreed with her.
The fact that she is under federal indictment has also hurt her campaign, supporters said. Mosby was charged in January with two counts of perjury and mortgage fraud; she denied the allegations.
“I hope no official ever has to go through what Marilyn went through because there is so much a human being can go through before it starts to have a negative effect on your performance, your attitude” said William H. “Billy” Murphy, a prominent criminal defense attorney and Mosby supporter, of the criticism Mosby faced throughout his tenure.
“It all piled up,” he said.
Early in her tenure as state’s attorney, Mosby clashed with the Baltimore Police Department. In 2015, she made national headlines when she announced that her office was charging the six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man from Sandtown-Winchester in West Baltimore. None of the officers have been convicted, and the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, the police union, has attacked her several times since then.
His prosecution policies, in particular a decision to stop prosecuting for simple drug possession, prostitution and trespassing, have been praised by progressive pundits and lambasted by the city’s business community and the FOP. The prosecution of petty offenses disproportionately impacts poor and black people, and Mosby has sought to address systemic inequalities in the criminal justice system.
“The white community hasn’t supported Marilyn, for the most part, since her tenure began,” Murphy said.
Some took issue less with the substance of the policy change than the way it was rolled out. Former prosecutors told the Baltimore Sun in June that they were regularly briefed on developments in the office by the media, rather than by Mosby herself. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison also said Mosby did not tell him in advance that his office would no longer prosecute drug possession.
His 2014 primary victory, a shock upset against incumbent Gregg Bernstein, was the product of an aggressive and grassroots campaign focused on reducing crime in the city. Living in the Reservoir Hill community in West Baltimore, she endeared herself to a voting base of working-class black voters who were fed up with what was happening in their neighborhoods.
“When you live in West Baltimore and crime is rampant in your community, you become outraged,” Mosby told The Sun at the time.
But homicides have skyrocketed under his tenure. In 2014, Bernstein’s last full year in office, Baltimore recorded 211 homicides. There have been 202 homicides in the city so far this year, and each year of Mosby’s tenure, the city has topped 300 homicides.
And as the killings continued, Mosby’s office deteriorated. As of 2018, more than 200 prosecutors worked there, according to city payroll records. In June, the staff numbered less than 140 prosecutors. His administration cited the COVID-19 pandemic and wages as reasons people left. By contrast, former lawyers told The Sun in June that grueling hours, a heavy workload and low morale drove them away. Additionally, staffing levels were so low they likely posed a threat to public safety, they said.
Like Mosby in 2014, Bates and Thiru Vignarajah, the third candidate in Tuesday’s primary, have pledged to reduce violent crime as part of their campaigns. With Bates likely to be elected to the post in November — Baltimore has elected a Democrat as state’s attorney every year since 1920 — the pressure will be on for him to deliver on his promises.
But Mosby supporters are skeptical of a prosecutor’s ability to drive down murder rates.
“A lot of criticism of a prosecutor is unfair because prosecutors can’t prosecute if the police don’t do the business,” Murphy said.
“If the police are on the job, and there’s plenty of evidence of that because arrests are down, what are they going to do now?” Murphy said. “Are they going to start making arrests because we have a new prosecutor? I hope they will.
The department remains under a federal consent decree established in 2017 after a U.S. Justice Department investigation found an unconstitutional policing pattern — particularly in poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods.
Warren Brown, Mosby’s campaign supporter and defense attorney, said people who got sick of Mosby and backed Bates are likely to grow impatient with him afterwards.
“When things don’t change, you have to throw that anger somewhere,” Brown said.
The federal case against her has cast a shadow of uncertainty over her campaign, limiting her ability to raise funds and enlist support from her usual base, supporters said.
Prosecutors, in court papers, say Mosby lied about his financial situation to make early withdrawals from his retirement account to buy two vacation homes in Florida: an eight-bedroom home near Disney World and a condo on the gulf coast of the state. Prosecutors also say she lied about mortgage applications about where she lived, her plans for the Disney home and about a tax lien the IRS placed on her and her husband, the board chairman. Municipal Democrat Nick Mosby. He is not accused of anything.
Marilyn Mosby has vowed to vigorously fight the charges. His trial is scheduled for September 19.
“It reduced publicity,” Brown said. “You had a lot of people who were hesitant to come out and express their support because they don’t want to be in the crosshairs of the federal government. Add to that the bad feelings about her husband’s power dynamics as city council president – people don’t like that.
Bates and Vignarajah, a former prosecutor, significantly outperformed Mosby throughout the election.
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What Mosby had was an ability to relate to everyday black Baltimoreans in communities most affected by gun violence. She regularly made overtures to members of these communities at press conferences, community meetings and on social media, promising to fight for them.
East Baltimore resident Jessica Waters, 30, volunteered for Mosby’s campaign after establishing a personal connection with the state’s attorney. Waters said Mosby contacted her after saving a child from a burning house. Waters said Mosby’s efforts to positively influence the city’s youth were valiant. Mosby regularly organized events for children and teenagers.
“Having someone like Marilyn Mosby who can lead these young people and teach them different things, I feel like it takes away from crime,” Waters said.
Mosby remains popular on social media and receives regular messages of support from his followers.
Kelly Davis is arguably Mosby’s biggest critic, and even she acknowledges Mosby’s political skills. Mosby’s office attempts to try Davis’ husband, Keith Davis, for murder for the fifth time. Mosby once gave the middle finger to a Keith Davis supporter and later denied doing it, despite being caught on camera.
“She’s so good at making you think she’s a figure you can relate to,” Davis said. “She’s a masterful politician, I just don’t think she’s a very good prosecutor.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Alex Mann contributed to this article.