Challenger Sam Cogen in dead heat with longtime incumbent John W. Anderson in Baltimore sheriff’s Democratic primary

Published on: July 20, 2022 at 7:55 am EDT

Updated on: July 20, 2022 at 5:14 pm EDT

Baltimore City Sheriff John W. Anderson stands for a portrait in his office on Thursday, May 26.

Challenger Sam Cogen and incumbent Baltimore Sheriff John W. Anderson were in a dead heat Wednesday morning, with Cogen leading Anderson by just a few hundred votes.

The results don’t include tens of thousands of mail-in votes, making the winner unclear. Cogen had 21,559 votes to Anderson’s 21,378, with 284 of 296 election day precincts reporting. However, the full results for Tuesday’s primary could not be known for weeks, since mail-in ballots will not start to be counted until Thursday.

Cogen, 48, a former top aide to the sheriff, campaigned on a platform of modernizing the sheriff’s office, embracing technology and humanizing the eviction process.

“People don’t know who the sheriff is. They don’t know what the sheriff’s office does. There’s a lack of accountability. There’s a lack of transparency. Other jurisdictions have modernized their sheriffs’ offices,” said Cogen in a June interview with The Baltimore Banner. “Why haven’t we?”

Anderson, 75, was appointed to the role in 1989 by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, making him the state’s longest-serving sheriff. His office, in the city courthouse, does not have a computer. When he needs to look up a fact or send an email, an aide handles the task at her own computer.

Anderson faced a serious challenger this year in Cogen, who is president of the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association and public safety chair of Federal Hill Main Street.

When Anderson was asked about his accomplishments during his 33 years in office, 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.

Cogen joined the sheriff’s office after graduating from Goucher College in 1997 and quickly rose through the ranks. He retired from the office last fall to focus on running for the office, saying it would be a distraction if he were campaigning against his boss.

JUNE 10,2022—Sam Cogen a longstanding public servant who worked in the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office between 1996 and 2021, is running for Sheriff. Sam started his distinguished, 25-year career as an intern and worked his way up through the ranks to become a top commander.

While other top law enforcement officials, such as the police commissioner, are appointed, sheriffs have traditionally been elected. A sheriff’s duties vary widely from one jurisdiction to another, and, in many areas, sheriffs are the top law enforcement official. In Baltimore, however, the police handle most law enforcement duties. The city sheriff’s office secures and staffs the courthouse, transports prisoners to and from court, enforces evictions, and serves both bench and domestic violence warrants.

Anderson is far from the only sheriff to hold the position for decades. Several other current Maryland sheriffs have held the title for 15 or 20 years. The sheriff of San Miguel County, Colorado, has held the office for more than 40 years. And the sheriff of Houston County, Georgia, has served continuously since 1973.

“It’s not uncommon for sheriffs who are elected to be in office for long periods of time because they understand the office and their constituents trust them,” said Patrick Royal, a spokesman for the National Sheriffs’ Association.

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Anderson came under fire from members of the Baltimore City Council this year for the way his office handles evictions. A 2001 opinion from the Maryland Attorney General’s office said that deputies should post eviction notices directly on the door of an apartment, but tenants’ rights groups say Baltimore deputies often place such notices on the main entrance to an apartment building or a mailroom. Anderson failed to attend the first scheduled council hearing for his office’s budget. He attended a rescheduled hearing, but council members decided to cut $500,000 from his budget due to concerns about eviction procedures.

Nine of the council’s 15 members endorsed Cogen earlier this month, as did Baltimore City Comptroller Bill Henry. Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who represents Northeast Baltimore, also asked city Inspector General Isabel Cumming to look into Anderson’s use of public funds for a billboard. The billboard, which says “PAY YOUR CHILD SUPPORT,” also prominently displays Anderson’s name and face. The sheriff’s office purchased the billboard in May for $22,000, according to Dorsey’s letter to Cumming. “On its face this would seem like a use of public funds for purposes of electioneering,” Dorsey wrote. “The smell of impropriety seems too great to ignore.”

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