When Mayor Brandon Scott gathered Monday with Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown and other law enforcement officials to announce the takedown of two alleged drug trafficking operations as part of his signature crime-fighting initiative, Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates was not in attendance.

Though Scott brushed it off and Bates noted that he sent a representative, it was hardly an aberration. The two have only appeared together publicly once this calendar year with the election bearing down.

Now, with about a month to go in the primary election, the two have become political rivals. Scott’s poll numbers are surging, showing a new advantage over his chief opponent Sheila Dixon. She’s turned to Bates — whose approval ratings are tops in the city, and 17 percentage points higher than Scott’s among Democratic likely voters — in what may be the biggest card she had left to play.

Bates endorsed Dixon last week, appeared in a campaign ad, and immediately went on a media blitz. He even undermined the city’s progress on crime at a time when homicides are down 31% this year and 44% compared to the same time two years ago.

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“We have to stop the false narrative that we’re OK,” Bates said on WEAA on Friday. “We are not safer. We are in a crisis.”

Bates insists his endorsement in the mayor’s race is policy-driven — he says Scott has failed to get behind his effort to increase enforcement of quality of life crimes through police citations. He said he needs “a partner,” which he believes Dixon would be.

Scott has been accusing Bates of playing politics, saying Bates’ concerns were never conveyed directly with the gravity that Bates now expresses.

The two have even been sparring over whether Bates approached Scott at a Ravens game on New Year’s Eve to discuss concerns about the citation docket. Scott said he was home with his newborn son and accused him of lying; Bates later said he misspoke and it was a Coppin State basketball game.

Emails provided in response to a public records requests show Scott sent a letter March 4 through his chief of staff attempting to meet with Bates. Bates’ chief of staff Angela Galeano responded weeks later saying it would be “disingenuous ... considering the primary election is less than three months away” and “given the apparent lack of motivation on the mayor’s part to do this, over the past 13 months.”

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Galeano wrote in a March 29 reply that “it would be best to begin a schedule of regular meetings, after the election.” They later agreed to an early April phone call, though by then the relationship took a downturn and it did not occur.

Kurt Schmoke, who served as both state’s attorney and mayor, said such conflict was “nothing new,” recalling public battles of former Mayor Martin O’Malley and former State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy. “The mayor and state’s attorney usually have the same goals but don’t always have the same strategies,” Schmoke said.

But he said it was unusual for a sitting state’s attorney to weigh in on a mayoral election, saying he couldn’t recall it happening here before.

“I think that, although state’s attorneys run for election, the state’s attorney should do as much as possible to appear nonpartisan,” he said.

Former State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein, while saying he was not taking sides, said the flap was unfortunate.

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“I don’t think that personal public sniping serves anyone’s interests and I think causes a diminished public confidence in those we rely on to keep us safe,” Bernstein said.

Bates may be returning a favor to Dixon, who was a key ally in his own election in 2022, and they share a campaign benefactor in developer Jack Luetkemeyer, who loaned Bates $250,000 total for his runs in 2018 and 2022 and has given $300,000 to a super PAC supporting Dixon.

Dixon said she didn’t want to get in the middle of the dispute.

“I believe the mayor and the state’s attorney need a strong partnership; we need to be very professional and we need to be focused on making this city safe,” Dixon said. “Whatever’s going on between them, they need to resolve it.”

Some of their beef is centered on the citation docket, which Bates created to address quality of life crimes without the threat of jail time. But he said officers aren’t writing citations and Scott isn’t pushing them. He said he’s met repeatedly with police officials including Police Commissioner Richard Worley, encouraging them to join the effort. His office prepared cheat sheets on how to write citations effectively, and he personally visited police roll calls.

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And Scott has had ample opportunity to help, Bates said. The citation docket has been top of the agenda at numerous meetings between his staff and the Police Department, and it’s been the subject of City Council hearings.

“If you don’t support it [the citation docket], give me an alternative,” Bates said. “The citation docket is important to me, and I made a promise to the citizens.”

Scott rejected Bates’ assertion that he doesn’t believe in enforcement of lower-level offenses. He and Worley have said policy directs officers to issue a warning first, which often resolves the issue.

Scott said a good example is the reduction in squeegee complaints: “They haven’t had to give barely any citations on squeegeeing, and everyone in the city would agree we’ve seen a significant reduction in squeegee incidents and related calls.”

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Bates said crime remains too high, echoing remarks from Dixon and her supporters that for any progress made, too many residents still feel unsafe. “We’ve been an F, now we’re at a D, and we want to celebrate,” Bates said. “Baltimore has the ability to be an A.”

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Scott said he was disappointed in Bates’ remarks, calling them “tone deaf” and disrespectful to those working to reduce crime. “We’re clearly safer,” he said.

After a record year-over-year decline in homicides last year, killings are down more than 30% compared to the same time last year. Total violent crime is down 5% compared to the same time last year, though property crime is up 8% . That includes a 41% increase in car thefts and 9% increase in burglaries, according to the Police Department’s most recently available data.

Year-end data for 2023 showed total violent crime dropped 12% from 2022, and total property crime dropped 13%.

The mayor’s office noticed that Bates had not been personally attending a monthly meeting of top criminal justice officials, prompting Scott’s chief of staff Marvin James to reach out to Bates for a meeting.

After being rebuffed, James tried again on April 1, reminding Bates’ chief of staff Galeano that “electeds have a fiduciary responsibility to collaborate regardless of political affiliation or calendar.”

She offered some dates. But before that could happen, Scott preempted Bates’ announcement of the takedown of a juvenile crime ring, prompting Bates to go public with his frustrations with the mayor. Bates confirmed that he didn’t invite Scott to the press conference because the mayor hadn’t shown up to previous announcements.

Scott, he said, reached out and stated that he was coming. “My response was, ‘No,’” Bates said.

“I handled it poorly,” Bates acknowledged to WBAL radio.

Bates confirmed in an interview that he was reluctant to meet with Scott, saying that he did not want to be part of a photo op.

Could a thaw be in the works? According to emails obtained through a public records request, Bates reached out to Scott on Sunday asking to meet this week, saying “our recent public feud has not been productive for either of our offices or for the people of Baltimore whom we serve.”

Scott agreed.

Banner reporter Dylan Segelbaum contributed to this article.

Justin Fenton is an investigative reporter for the Baltimore Banner. He previously spent 17 years at the Baltimore Sun, covering the criminal justice system. His book, "We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption," was released by Random House in 2021 and became an HBO miniseries.

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