Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby won a contentious Democratic primary election Tuesday and became the city’s first top prosecutor to be re-elected in a dozen years after fending off weeks of attacks from her two challengers, defense attorney Ivan Bates and former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah.
Mosby, 38, emerged on Maryland’s political scene four years ago with a stunning victory over the city’s previous state’s attorney. She rose to national prominence months later by filing charges against six Baltimore police officers involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest.
Many of her supporters praised that decision as helping to quell the anger that had erupted in protests and rioting after Gray’s death from injuries sustained in police custody. Others — including her two challengers — criticized her for a prosecution that resulted in no convictions against the officers.
Still, Mosby was hailed for doing what prosecutors across the nation had rarely done — attempt to hold officers accountable at a time when several black men like Gray had died in questionable encounters with police in various cities.
And voters have clearly endorsed Mosby’s efforts to expand her office’s community outreach in addition to its traditional role of prosecuting criminals.
“This is about Baltimore. This is so much bigger than Marilyn Mosby,” said Antonio Glover, a campaign director for Mosby. “This young lady is so courageous. She is unafraid to take on challenges. She has set the standard for young African-American women in Baltimore and in the country,”
Mosby began her day voting with her husband, state Del. Nick Mosby, and their children at the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council. They were expected to join their supporters 12 hours later to watch results at Melba’s Place on Greenmount Avenue.
With 90 percent of precincts counted at 11 p.m., Mosby was leading with about half the nearly 71,000 votes cast. Bates, 49, was in second, and Vignarajah, 41, trailed both. Vignarajah conceded.
In heavily Democratic Baltimore, winning the party’s primary is tantamount to election. No one from another party filed to run in the general election, so Mosby will be the only candidate listed on the ballot in November.
Mosby became the youngest chief prosecutor in any major city when she handily defeated first-term State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein in 2014 with 54 percent of the vote. Bernstein himself had won a surprise victory in 2010 by defeating longtime incumbent Patricia Jessamy in a tight race decided by 1,167 votes.
When Mosby stood on the steps of the War Memorial in downtown Baltimore to announce charges against the six officers involved in Gray’s arrest, she became a leading voice in the national debate about race and policing. She was photographed for Vogue, was invited on stage when Prince held his Rally 4 Peace in Baltimore, and has attained 40,000 Twitter followers.
She has enjoyed the support of some of the city’s biggest political luminaries: U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, Kweisi Mfume and three of her former prosecutorial predecessors: Jessamy, Stuart Simms and Kurt Schmoke, Baltimore’s former three-term mayor.
Mosby campaigned on her 92 percent conviction rate, which was lower than her predecessor’s. But she held up her record as successful given the Baltimore Police Department’s corruption scandals and the finding by the U.S. Department of Justice that police routinely violated the civil rights of black residents.
In his concession speech around 11:15 p.m., Bates congratulated Mosby while noting that about half of voters did not choose her.
“More than half truly want change,” he said. “I’m very happy and very proud we were able to show change is needed in our city.”
Vignarajah conceded at 10:30 p.m. and called Mosby’s campaign to congratulate her and wish her luck, his spokeswoman said.
“There is much work to do and I will continue to do my part to help this city thrive,” he said. “I wish the state’s attorney the very best.”
Mosby’s win came after a campaign that became increasingly contentious. Bates’ claim of having never lost a murder trial was a dominant issue. Mosby and Vignarajah hammered away at Bates with ads and mailers, accusing him of misrepresenting his record.
Tensions flared on the eve of the election as Mosby rolled out endorsements from many of Baltimore’s top Democrats, including City Council President Bernard C. Jack Young, Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, nearly the entire council and various state senators and delegates.
Bates held a press conference on Monday and threatened to sue Mosby and Vignarajah — as well as the Afro-American newspaper — for defamation if they did not stop making allegations about his record.
“I have not lied about my record, and now there will be severe consequences,” he said. “I am not to be played with.”
Mosby held her own press conference three hours later. She didn’t back down.
“I will not be bullied, and I’m not intimidated by feeble threats,” she said. “Ivan Bates has consistently misrepresented his record and exaggerated his accomplishments. In West Baltimore, we call that lying.”
Meanwhile, Vignarajah sought the high road.
“Part of our momentum is from the fact that my opponents hurl insults at each other while we focus on concrete solutions,” he said online Monday evening.
On the campaign trail, Mosby pledged to quicken her efforts to bring criminal justice reform to Baltimore. She also pledged to grow her community programs to steer youths away from street crime.
Sabrina Cooper, 44, a security guard who lives in West Baltimore, said she voted for Mosby because she can identify with her.
“She’s a woman in a dominant male world,” she said. “Her job doesn’t end. She’s got to think of herself and her husband and her family. To continue to want to do it, that says a lot.”
Mosby upset Bernstein partly by arguing he was losing too many cases and blaming him for Baltimore’s street violence. Four years later, her two challengers took the same approach, arguing she should do more to end the pace of the killings. Last year ended with 342 killings, a per-capita record. Baltimore has suffered more than 300 homicides for three years in a row. At least 135 people have been killed so far this year.
Mosby only occasionally engaged her two rivals in the weeks leading to the election. Instead, she hosted community events and used her celebrity to host a high profile promotional concert with the popular rapper Common.
Baltimore Sun reporters Lauren Lumpkin, Luke Broadwater and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.