Sam Cogen, a former longtime Baltimore sheriff’s deputy, claimed victory Friday evening over his former boss, 33-year incumbent John W. Anderson, in the Democratic primary for sheriff. A Cogen victory, which now appears certain, would represent a seismic change for the city sheriff’s office, which Anderson has led since 1989.

“Thank you to everyone that supported and believed in our vision — to modernize and transform the Sheriff’s Office, which will now become an integral part of our City’s public safety solution,” 48-year-old Cogen said in a statement. “We remain committed to transparency and accountability, the foundation upon which public trust is built.”

As of Friday evening, Cogen had 39,500 votes, or nearly 52 percent, to Anderson’s 36,733 votes, or just over 48 percent. The two candidates were nearly tied in early ballots and those cast on primary day, July 19, but Cogen took a commanding lead in mail-in ballots, which city elections workers were continuing to count Friday.

No Republican entered the race, so the primary winner is the presumed victor of the coming general election.

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Anderson could not immediately be reached for comment Friday evening.

Cogen thanked Anderson for his “decades of service to the City of Baltimore,” and said he looked forward to working with him during the transition.

“Our next step is to form a transition team focused on reorganization and modernization, which will enable us to implement best practices from the moment we take office,” Cogen said. “We plan to meet with key Federal, State, and City leadership and work collaboratively with stakeholders to implement our vision.”

Cogen campaigned on a platform of modernizing the sheriff’s office, embracing technology for greater efficiency and humanizing the eviction process.

“When we assume office, we will work hard everyday to make our City safer and reduce harm. We will carry out this important mission in a constitutional manner that recognizes the value and importance of each and every person we have been entrusted to serve,” Cogen said.

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Cogen joined the sheriff’s office in 1997, shortly after graduating from Goucher College, and swiftly rose through ranks, eventually becoming the third-highest ranking deputy. Cogen was the first deputy to teach at the Baltimore police academy, served as president of the sheriff’s deputies’ union and represented Baltimore in the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association. He also had been the sole member of the sheriff’s office on the city’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

While in the sheriff’s office, Cogen teamed with state legislatures to obtain permission for the sheriff’s office to serve domestic violence orders. About 10 percent of these orders had been served before the move; afterward, 75% were, he said.

Cogen is president of the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association and is the public safety chair of Federal Hill Main Street. He left the sheriff’s office in November.

Anderson joined the sheriff’s office in 1972 and also climbed the ranks in the office. In 1989, then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed Anderson as sheriff. He has remained in office ever since, handily defeating all prior challengers.

Anderson, 75, does not keep a computer in his office and has been slow to embrace technology. Baltimore City Council members publicly criticized his office this year for the manner in which deputies conducted evictions, saying deputies were not posting notices correctly, leading tenants to be blindsided by evictions. The council docked $500,000 from the sheriff’s office’s budget over these concerns. Nine of the council’s 15 members, as well city Comptroller Bill Henry, endorsed Cogen.

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When Anderson was asked in a recent interview about his accomplishments during his long tenure, he did not mention major innovations, but spoke of smaller projects, such as a community patrol initiative. “What I’m most proud of is the image we have here. We are well-respected by the judiciary, well-respected by the public. We are a community-oriented agency,” he said.

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Julie Scharper is a news enterprise reporter who writes about interesting people, places, trends and traditions in Baltimore and the surrounding counties. She seeks to answer the question: What does it mean to be alive in this time and place? 

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