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Politics

Maryland Gov. Hogan endorses Thiru Vignarajah for Baltimore State’s Attorney

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has endorsed Thiru Vignarajah in the Democratic primary for Baltimore State’s Attorney.

Democrat Marilyn Mosby, a frequent target of Hogan’s criticism, now holds the job.

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The endorsement is the first time Hogan has formally backed a Democratic candidate, and the first time the two-term governor has weighed in on a Democratic primary, according to Vignarajah’s campaign and Hogan’s office.

Hogan cited the persistent violent crime in Baltimore in his backing Vignarajah. Homicides and shootings in the city are outpacing the year before, which was the seventh consecutive year with at least 300 slayings. An announcement from Vignarajah’s campaign included a statement from the governor.

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“For far too long violent criminals have been allowed to terrorize the streets of Baltimore with impunity,” Hogan said. “Every single day, the people of Baltimore pay a steep price for that failure with lost loved ones, terrified families and countless lost potential. This crisis rises above partisan politics. It’s not about right or left. It’s about right and wrong.”

Thiru Vignarajah speaks outside the Baltimore City Board of Elections after filing for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney race.

Hogan described Vignarajah, a former city, state and federal prosecutor, as the candidate with the experience to “restore trust, hold violent criminals accountable and make our street’s safer.”

His endorsement comes after Vignarajah publicly backed a series of crime bills Hogan brought to the legislature. Hogan’s political lobbying group, the Change Maryland Action Fund, ran digital advertisements touting Vignarajah’s support for Hogan’s legislation.

The governor is term-limited from seeking another term but reportedly has plans to visit key presidential race states.

Hogan’s endorsement adds to a primary race that could be defined by the federal indictment of Mosby. The two-term Democrat hasn’t officially entered the race to retain her seat.

Mosby says she’s innocent on the two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements on loan applications to buy a pair of properties in Florida. Her campaign did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Mosby and Hogan have sparred publicly over crime in Baltimore and her record as the city’s elected prosecutor. The governor has often described Mosby as lenient on violent criminals, while Mosby has accused Hogan of “incessant dog-whistling attacks about Baltimore crime.”

Hogan’s support for Vignarajah may galvanize Mosby’s supporters to rally around her given their quarrels, while Democratic voters may be turned off by a Republican-endorsed candidate, said Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s School of Public Affairs. But the governor counts as bipartisan support and the issue of crime transcends party lines, meaning Hogan’s backing could be a boon for Vignarajah.

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“Some political scientists say endorsements don’t matter but unusual ones may. And this is an unusual one for this time,” Hartley said, referring to intense partisanship in politics.

About 77% of Baltimore’s registered voters are Democrats. In the 2018 gubernatorial election, roughly 67% of Baltimore voters went for Democrat Ben Jealous and 32% went for Hogan.

Vignarajah is a latecomer to the race. He announced his candidacy on March 22, after attorney Roya Hanna dropped out of the Democratic primary to run as an independent in the general election. Hanna is still listed as a Democratic candidate on the State Board of Elections website.

Defense attorney Ivan Bates is also running as a Democrat for state’s attorney, setting up the potential for a rerun of the 2018 Democratic primary. In that race, Mosby won comfortably; Bates and Vignarajah split the rest of the vote.

Bates outraised Mosby and Hanna in the year leading up to the primary election, now set for July 19.

Vignarajah has to raise money fast, and Hogan’s endorsement could help with that, Hartley said.

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“There are people outside of the city who care about this race. There are Republicans who care about this race. While it might not change voters that much, it could help [Vignarajah] with political organization and fundraising and other issues that could help his campaign.”

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Bates responded to the governor’s support of Vignarajah with a statement touting his own endorsements, which include former Mayor Sheila Dixon, Mosby’s predecessor as state’s attorney; Gregg Bernstein; Wanda Keyes Heard, retired chief judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court, and a handful of former Baltimore police officials.

“I remain laser-focused on providing the accountability, leadership and experience to end the gun violence epidemic in Baltimore,” Bates said.

The state’s attorney’s race will be Vignarajah’s third campaign for citywide office in a five-year span. The former prosecutor ran for mayor in 2020. He came in fourth with 11.5% of the vote amid a crowded field that included winner Brandon Scott, Dixon, former T. Rowe Price executive Mary Miller and then-Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

Vignarajah emerged from his past campaigns battered after two incidents, both captured on video, were brought to light. Vignarajah was recorded with a woman in a hotel room in 2015 as she prodded him to give up secrets from his work in the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. Vignarajah was pulled over by Baltimore police in 2019 and was recorded asking an officer to turn off his body-worn camera.

Vignarajah said in a statement Thursday that he was grateful for Hogan’s endorsement and that the issue of public safety was more important than politics.

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“Fighting violent crime is supposed to be the job of local leaders. For eight years, the governor has done his best to support the city in its battle against violent crime,” Vignarajah said. “But Gov. Hogan knows that without leadership at the local level this fight is infinitely harder than it needs to be.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Emily Opilo contributed to this article.


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