The State of the State's Attorney Race
Mosby's hungry, vague; Bernstein's confident. Will his record undo him?
Gregg Bernstein defeated Pat Jessamy to become State's Attorney in 2010. (Frank Klein / June 19, 2014)
"Victim-witness services needs to be the top priority," Mosby says, sitting in a hard chair near a small table with a laptop on it. "And it's not. His top priority was getting this office space."
This is how one becomes the new state's attorney, of course. You say the incumbent is out of touch and lets murderers go free.
That's what Bernstein did to Pat Jessamy in 2010, winning the office from a 16-year incumbent by 1,167 votes in the Democratic primary.
Whether Mosby can do the same to Bernstein is an open question as early voting starts for the June 24 election. Though she is young, ambitious, and politically wired—she's married to City Councilman Nick Mosby—Marilyn Mosby displays a weak grasp of the office, and its budget. Still, Bernstein has come off as tone deaf, even as he implemented a policy change—which he won't admit to—that may have helped increase the city's murder rate. Mosby cannot be written off.
As of the June 13 campaign filing deadline, Mosby had spent almost $82,000 and had $42,315 still on hand. It's small money next to Bernstein's war chest, which stood at $272,000 on that same date. But Mosby had collected some significant political endorsements, including ones from former Congressman and NAACP Director Kweisi Mfume and union (and get-out-the-vote) powerhouses like the SEIU and AFL-CIO. Among her campaign contributors are Baltimore-born rap mogul Kevin Liles and Martin Cadogan, Governor Martin O'Malley's longtime campaign fundraising chief.
Mosby also has a compelling personal narrative. She grew up in Boston, the daughter of two police officers and the granddaughter of another.
"We were well known in our neighborhood as being the police house," she says. "All the kids came to our house. We had an indoor pool, in the inner city of Boston."
Bused to a far-off, nearly all-white school, she felt subtly pressured to embody the African-American ideal. Although the experience was hard, "it made me who I am," she says. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."
But it was the murder of her cousin 20 years ago that set her on her current course. He lived across the street, she says. His name was Diron. He was an artist; he wanted to go to Morehouse College. And he was in her house moments before he was shot to death.
"I heard him leave the house," Mosby says. "I heard gunshots and I heard a scream. I opened the door and saw someone running, and I saw someone lying on the street but I did not recognize it as him."
The guy who shot him was looking to rob a dealer named Deon, and apparently misheard his name. Diron had a bike, nice sneakers. The shooter asked him to turn over his stuff and Diron, according to Mosby, had no idea what he was talking about, there on the block where everyone knew he was part of the cop family.
The case was solved because a neighbor stepped up to testify, Mosby says.
Mosby says the incident inspired her to become a prosecutor.
She received a scholarship to Tuskegee University, where she met her future husband, who—after she graduated from Boston College Law School—brought her home to Reservoir Hill in Baltimore. "He points to a 20-year dilapidated shell and I looked around at the open-air drug market," Mosby says. "He says, ‘It's about investing, about realizing the potential of our dreams.'"
Marilyn joined the States Attorney's Office while Nick, an electrical engineer, who works for Verizon and then ran for—and won—the city council seat held for years by Belinda Conaway.
In this way the Mosbys have established themselves as an up-and-coming power couple. Mosby says her five years as an assistant prosecutor (she left in 2011 to work for an insurance company) trumps Bernstein's four in office and 25-plus as a trial lawyer. "When you look at my experience, I have more experience than the incumbent," she says, touting her management experience as supervisor of the early resolution court, where she says she trained the incoming prosecutors on courtroom decorum and case management.
"He was a federal prosecutor 20 years ago," she says of Bernstein. "I was day to day in court, dealing with Baltimore juries."
Bernstein has not done enough to break down the culture of distrust many Baltimore citizens harbor toward law enforcement, Mosby says, citing as examples the deaths of Matthew Hersl and Tyron West. The family of Hersl, a City Hall employee who was run down by a junkie fleeing police last spring, were stunned when the driver was at first set free by police.