Fight Trump or Baltimore's violence? Question is at heart of Maryland attorney general's race

Fight Trump or Baltimore's violence? Question is at heart of Maryland attorney general's race
Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh of Maryland and Republican challenger Craig Wolf. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images, Jen Rynda/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Running for attorney general four years ago, veteran Democrat Brian Frosh didn’t envision the job he ended up doing. He pictured a partnership with a Democrat in the governor’s mansion and never imagined the rise of Donald Trump to the White House.

“I didn’t think I was going to have stop the president of the United States from taking health insurance away from Marylanders,” Frosh said. “I didn't think the president would be spewing hate and sowing fear, threatening the civil rights of anybody whose skin is not white and whose native tongue is not English.”


Frosh adapted. In the past two years, he’s filed lawsuits challenging federal changes to health care laws, environmental regulations and higher education rules — and has alleged corruption by Trump himself.

To Republican Craig Wolf, Frosh’s focus on Washington has let down Marylanders and led the attorney general’s office away from what Wolf sees as its proper job: making the state safer. Wolf says that made him decide to run against Frosh in the Nov. 6 election.

“I was just appalled with what was going on with the crime, Baltimore being the murder capital of the country, 2,000 opioid deaths a year, we're fourth in the country in trafficking women and children, gang and gun violence everywhere, and the current attorney general seems focused on the politics,” Wolf said.

It’s hard to imagine two more different candidates. Frosh, 72, represented a Montgomery County district in the General Assembly for three decades. He’s mild-mannered and filters his advocacy for progressive causes through the language of a legal brief.

Wolf, a former Allegany County prosecutor, joined the U.S. Army after the Sept. 11 attacks, went through elite airborne training and deployed to Afghanistan at the age of 49. He wants stiffer prison sentences, easier jailing of suspects awaiting trial, and the return of the death penalty in Maryland.

The two men see eye to eye on very little, if anything at all.

Frosh said he doesn’t regard lawsuits against the Trump administration as politics. His office has filed or joined at least 20 of them, relying on authority state lawmakers granted his office in 2017. He has alleged Trump’s business holdings mean he is violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, gaining financially from being president by doing business with foreign governments.

“When I’m protecting Marylanders, it’s right to jump in,” Frosh said. “What’s political about fighting for clean air? What’s political about fighting for health insurance for Maryland citizens? What’s political about stopping consumers from being ripped off?”

The current attorney general seems focused on the politics.

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Polling on the race is mixed. A survey conducted by Goucher College in mid-September had Frosh at 58 percent and Wolf at 26 percent. A recent poll by the consulting firm Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies had Frosh at 43 percent to Wolf’s 34 percent.

Both were taken before Frosh began running television ads in the second week of October. Campaign finance reports in August showed Frosh had $1.2 million in his account, compared with Wolf’s $160,000.

Mileah Kromer, the political science professor who conducted the Goucher Poll, said Democrats are angry enough about the Trump administration that they’re backing Frosh as their champion, even as the more moderate among them say they’ll vote to re-elect Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

“Democrats and a lot of independents appreciate that Brian Frosh has taken an activist role against the Trump administration, an administration they by and large don’t like,” Kromer said.

At a recent conference of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3, the state employee union, enthusiasm for Frosh was clear. Despite his low-key style, Frosh had people on their feet applauding as he recounted his efforts against the president and some businesses around the state.

Joseph Aulet, a union official and mental health worker in Hagerstown, was in the audience. Aulet said he sees Frosh as someone who has stood up for the vulnerable.


“It was very energizing” hearing Frosh speak, Aulet said. “It was refreshing.”

Wolf, who worked for the U.S. Justice Department and Republican U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah before becoming a lobbyist for wine and liquor wholesalers, has found support in some places that might not seem like fertile ground for a Republican.

He’s been running ads on Baltimore television stations featuring news coverage of violence in the city. It was one of those that prompted Millie Brown to seek a meeting with Wolf. Brown runs an organization for families of crime victims called A Mother’s Cry. She met Wolf recently at her apartment building on Greenmount Avenue. She said felt alone until she learned about his campaign.

“He is the person who wants to stop what’s happening,” she said.

Frosh says Wolf’s focus on criminal prosecutions misunderstands the role of the attorney general — which has to ask permission from local prosecutors before using a grand jury to investigate or file charges — and overlooks Frosh’s efforts to do more to help tackle violent crime. Frosh hired senior prosecutors from the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office as leaders on his team and started a violent crime unit, which he says has brought charges against more than 100 people. He says all this “by large measures, exceeded what most of my predecessors did.”

Wolf dismisses the effort.

“It hasn’t done a whole lot,” he said of the new unit.

Wolf was also critical of Frosh’s response to the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. Shortly after the attorney general of Pennsylvania issued a scathing report about church leaders in that state, Wolf called for Frosh to open a similar investigation. Frosh’s office declined to respond publicly, citing policy. It later posted a notice on its website suggesting that such a review was underway in Maryland.

Wolf said he supports new mandatory minimum sentences, but has not specified what offenses deserve them. He called for the attorney general’s office to help local prosecutors work with federal authorities to bring stronger cases, an approach that has been used in Baltimore for at least a decade.

Wolf would seek to undo a legal change Frosh championed that requires judges to consider suspects’ ability to pay when setting bail. The new rules are designed to keep people from being held in jail while they’re waiting for their cases to be heard merely because they can’t afford to pay for their release. Supporters say the change has meant people facing charges can go on living their lives and supporting their families.


When I’m protecting Marylanders, it’s right to jump in.

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“It’s an easy fix,” Frosh said. “It saves money. It allows people to lead productive lives. It delivers better justice.”

Wolf sees it differently. “These aren’t just people who are poor in jail,” Wolf said. “They’re there for a reason. They’re in jail because of something they did. They still have the presumption of innocence.”