Ivan Bates, Thiru Vignarajah debate at Baltimore state's attorney forum despite Marilyn Mosby's absence

The two candidates seeking to defeat Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby in next month’s primary election faced off against each other Wednesday night for the first time in the Democratic campaign.

Ivan Bates and Thiru Vignarajah took seats on either side of an empty chair with Mosby’s name on it as they discussed their strategies at a forum sponsored by the nonprofit Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance at Peabody Heights Brewery.

The one-on-one forum came hours after Mosby announced her willingness to debate her two rivals in three separate events over the next month prior to the June 26 Democratic primary election — a gesture that Bates and Vignarajah had been demanding for weeks.

Bates said voters deserved more debates than Mosby has proposed.

“In the very same week that Baltimore City crossed 100 homicides, including two teenagers being killed, it's appalling Marilyn Mosby is still seeking to limit debate,” Bates said in a statement.

The city recorded 100 homicides for the year Tuesday, marking the second-fastest pace of killings in the city in a decade.

Bates and Vignarajah lay a significant amount of responsibility for the record violence in Baltimore since 2015 on what they characterize as an ineffective prosecutor’s office — the same claim Mosby made against her predecessor when she campaigned for the office in 2014.

Both candidates on Wednesday night offered different strategies for how they would attack juvenile crime in the city if they were elected as the city’s top prosecutor.

Vignarajah said he would implement a policy that would require officials to charge juveniles in the juvenile system first, no matter what type of crime they have committed, before it gets elevated to adult court.

“That’s controversial for some. It’s simple for me,” Vignarajah said. “Every youth offender ought to start in the youth system.”

His position on juvenile justice distanced Vignarajah, a former Maryland deputy attorney general, from Bates, a longtime defense attorney and former city prosecutor.

“That idea is not going to work,” Bates said.

Bates spoke of dedicating staff to closely monitor juvenile offenders, even tracking them when they skip school.

Otherwise, Bates and Vignarajah offered largely similar progressive views on other matters.

Both men condemned a system of cash bail that they said preyed on the poor. They supported plans to pursue repeat violent offenders and to reallocate resources now being directed at prosecuting drug addicts. They want to end mandatory minimum sentences and vowed to bolster the experience of prosecutors who they say are lacking in courtroom experience.

About half of the 200 attorneys in the office from three years ago have left, Bates said.

“I’m the only person in this race — I repeat, the only person — that a number of those prosecutors want to come back and work with,” he said.

But the candidates also disagreed on “predictive policing,” a law enforcement strategy embraced by Mayor Catherine Pugh and police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa. The strategy empowers analysts with technology that uses crime data to try and anticipate the location of future shootings.

“I have watched them continuously go after black men and black women,” Bates said. “I’m not a fan of predictive policing … They want to target neighborhoods.”

Vignarajah, however, said he supported predictive policing methods to stop crime in neighborhoods ravaged by drugs and guns. He told the crowd of his past efforts to disrupt criminals entrenched in particular Baltimore neighborhoods.

“When we focus on a particular neighborhood, it was not because the community didn’t want it,” he said. “The community desperately wanted it.”

The two candidates clearly agreed on one other issue: both said the election was critical for reversing four years of record levels of crime in Baltimore. After record-low violence in 2014, the city has experienced three years of record levels of crime.

“This is an opportunity to rescue the soul of our city,” Vignarajah said.

Bates said Baltimore was in chaos.

“We must restore justice to the criminal justice system,” he said.

The two candidates will have their chance to aim that criticism directly at Mosby in the three debates she has agreed to attend.

The events are:

  • A June 7 debate hosted by The Baltimore Sun and WJZ-TV.
  • A June 13 debate on the Larry Young Show on WOLB radio.
  • And not-yet scheduled debate this month or next on WYPR’s Midday with Tom Hall show.

“We have announced a robust schedule of forums I hope my opponents will be able to commit to attending,” Mosby said in a statement. “I know how busy election season can be, but it is critical that the people of the city of Baltimore hear from us about our plans for the future.”

Mosby’s campaign sent letters to Bates and Vignarajah invited them to participate in the events, but indicated that both men had agreed to the The Sun and WOLB debates already.

“As the primary election approaches, it is important that we allow voters an opportunity to not only examine our records, but also hear directly from each candidate regarding his/her plan for the future of Baltimore City,” stated the announcement from Mosby’s campaign.

ddonovan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/dougdonovan

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