Majority of Baltimoreans disapprove of Mosbys’ and police commissioner’s performance, according to poll

Published on: June 15, 2022 6:00 AM EDT

Baltimore City Hall

More than half of city residents surveyed in a new Baltimore Banner poll said they disapprove of the job performance of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and her husband, City Council President Nick Mosby. In interviews, respondents cited Marilyn Mosby’s federal indictment and other issues surrounding the couple.

Sixty percent of respondents to The Baltimore Banner Baltimore Now survey conducted by Goucher College Poll said they disapprove of the state’s attorney’s job performance, while 58% expressed disapproval of the city council president.

And with Baltimore registering more than 150 homicide victims already this year, half of respondents either disapproved or strongly disapproved of Police Commissioner Michael Harrison’s performance. Just 32% approved of Harrison, the city’s fifth police commissioner since 2015, who polled moderately better than his department.

The Baltimore Now survey polled 1,002 city residents by cellphone and landline from May 17-23. The poll has a margin of error of 3.09%.

The results for the Mosbys and Harrison are consistent with opinions about other Baltimore leaders and agencies: Poll respondents said they are dissatisfied with the state of the city.

For Harrison, the temperature check comes amid a public outcry over stubbornly high violent crime levels. At the same time, his department is in its sixth year under a federal consent decree imposed in the wake of a 2016 federal investigation that found discriminatory and unconstitutional policing in the city.

For the Mosbys, the signal of public disapproval comes amid a staffing crisis in the State’s Attorney’s Office and months after federal investigators charged Marilyn Mosby with perjury and falsifying mortgage applications on two Florida vacation properties. She is running for reelection while awaiting a September trial.

Nick Mosby has not been charged with any crimes. But a city ethics board ruled in May that he had violated ethics laws by indirectly soliciting donations to fund the legal defense for him and his wife against the federal investigation, including contributions from at least two unnamed city contractors. Late last week the city council president filed an appeal of the ethics board decision in Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

“Something is not right,” said West Baltimore resident Betty Carr, a retired former drug and alcohol counselor who has lived in the city since the late 1960s. Carr, 74, criticized a system that she said seems to restore the same people to power again and again, even as public safety and city services languish in familiar problems.

“I have never seen the city falling apart at the point that it is right now,” said Carr, who described feeling unsafe in her own neighborhood near Mount Saint Joseph High School. She said she hears gunshots nightly as she lies in bed, and recounted a shooting of a neighbor two doors down that left her car “shot up.”

“Everybody needs to go,” she said of Baltimore City Hall. “I think we need to clean house and start from scratch.”

Opinions about the Mosbys are linked

Marilyn Mosby and her husband have become two of the biggest lightning rods in Baltimore politics, particularly since the federal indictment against the state’s attorney. The intensity of local feeling about the couple was reflected in The Banner’s polling.

For both Mosbys, more respondents said they “strongly disapprove” of their job performance than simply “disapprove.”

While federal prosecutors have distinguished between the alleged actions of Marilyn and Nick Mosby, poll respondents often did not. Carr and several others who spoke with The Banner said they believe Nick Mosby is directly or indirectly implicated in his wife’s legal troubles even though he has not been charged.

Support for both Mosbys was often tied together. A Banner analysis of the survey data shows that no two questions elicited more similar responses from Baltimoreans than the favorability ratings of Nick and Marilyn Mosby. Nearly 79% of respondents who approved of Nick Mosby also approved of Marilyn Mosby. Conversely, only 7.8% of respondents who disapproved or strongly disapproved of Nick Mosby approved of Marilyn Mosby.

Mileah Kromer, an associate professor of political science at Goucher College who oversaw the Banner poll, said she wasn’t surprised by the broad disapproval for the state’s attorney or the city council president, and called the difference in their polling numbers “negligible.”

The average Baltimorean likely doesn’t know the intricacies of the scandals surrounding the Mosbys, Kromer noted.

But “they know the feds came in,” she said. “They also know that they’re married.”

A spokesperson for the city council president did not respond to requests for comment on the poll results.

In a statement, the State’s Attorney’s Office attributed the negative sentiments to the “unyielding attacks” Mosby has faced from establishment figures in the years since she prosecuted Baltimore police officers involved in the 2015 arrest and death of Freddie Gray.

“The cumulative effect of biased right-wing media pundits and constant investigations, compounded with the unprecedented federal indictment has naturally had an impact,” state’s attorney spokesperson Zy Richardson said. “Despite all of this, our policies are not only popular, but more importantly, they are irrefutably effective. Our office remains focused on holding violent repeat offenders accountable while still advocating for transformative progressive changes to the criminal justice system.”

Marilyn Mosby has made reducing the prosecution of nonviolent crimes like drug possession a signature policy for her office. Though poll respondents were not asked about Mosby’s policy specifically, 53% surveyed said they support more prosecution of nonviolent offenses; 41% said they oppose more prosecution of those crimes.

Even considering the majority of people who expressed disapproval for the Mosbys, Kromer noted that the two retain a base of support. Twenty eight percent of respondents said they “approve” or “strongly approve” of the council president, while 30% of respondents expressed some level of approval for the state’s attorney.

Much of that support comes from Black Baltimoreans, according to the poll.

Seventy seven percent of white respondents said they disapproved of the job State’s Attorney Mosby is doing, 26 percentage points higher than for Black respondents. Similarly, 72% of white respondents said they disapproved of Council President Mosby’s performance, compared to 52% of Black participants in the poll.

David Charles, a Black 48-year-old barber and hip-hop artist who goes by Dave Da Barber, said he believes Marilyn Mosby’s identity as a Black woman in a city of high crime has put her in the crosshairs of more powerful people.

Charles, a resident of the Belair-Edison neighborhood in East Baltimore, supports the state’s attorney and her lenient policies towards nonviolent offenders. To him, the fact that the federal indictment came just weeks after she publicly responded to criticism from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is no coincidence.

“You threw a rock at a tank. That’s what happened. It don’t take rocket science to figure that out,” he said. There is no evidence in the federal charging documents that Hogan prompted the investigation.

Lester Spence, a political science and Africana Studies professor at Johns Hopkins University, said the Mosbys have retained sizable support in Baltimore’s Black community in part because its members “understand that racism causes Black political officials — particularly progressive ones — to be subjected to a higher level of scrutiny,” a contention supported by academic research.

White respondents, meanwhile, don’t have that “nuanced response” to the federal indictment. Spence said that many think less of possible racial bias and more of the severity of the allegations, while a sizable share hold “racially resentful attitudes” about Black people in leadership positions.

The state’s attorney has drawn support from the Baltimore and Maryland chapters of the NAACP, while the prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump called for an end to her investigation last October.

Mosby has maintained that she was unfairly targeted by federal investigators because of her race, sex and politics. A federal judge ruled in April that there is no merit to claims that the charges against her are discriminatory. The ruling was made by U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge in Maryland.

Police commissioner is ‘too soft’

Harrison, now a marker of stability in the Baltimore Police Department, took over as commissioner in 2019 in tumultuous times. He became the city’s fifth police commissioner in as many years, and was tasked by federal mandate with reforming a department known for corruption and aggressive tactics — all while violent crime levels have remained high.

Harrison polled moderately better than his department; his disapproval was 7 percentage points lower than the Baltimore Police Department. Black and white residents responded similarly to Harrison, with 50% of Black residents expressing disapproval and 49% of white residents expressing disapproval.

In an interview, Harrison said he doesn’t draw any conclusions from the poll results, since it’s impossible to know what precisely people were reacting to — resilient crime levels, his personality, or the progress of his reform efforts, which he argued have created “a completely different” department from three years ago.

Still, Harrison acknowledged the significance of public perceptions, arguing that the success of policing and the number of murders need to be decoupled in the minds of Baltimore residents. In many cases, homicides occur as crimes of passion or as premeditated hits that police had no opportunity to prevent.

“The entire burden in Baltimore has traditionally been put on the shoulders of the police, so people are conditioned to ask, ‘Why didn’t the police stop it or reduce it?’” he said. “When actually, that kind of crime happens when the police are there or not.”

Cedric Howard, a Black resident of East Baltimore, called for drastic action to “stop the bleeding.” Rather than funneling more money into the police department, which Howard believes is misusing the funds it already has, he called for deployment of the Maryland Army National Guard in Baltimore.

The police commissioner, Howard said, is “too soft.”

“I don’t think he really speaks what’s up,” he said, criticizing Harrison for repeating the same lines over and over, “while so many people are dying.”

To critics who might see him as too easy on criminals, Harrison touted increases in his department’s arrests, guns taken off the street, and clearance rates for shootings and homicides this year compared to last year.

“The data would support that I’m tougher than they perceive,” Harrison said.

Kromer noted that results from The Baltimore Now poll suggest that the majority of Baltimore residents seem ready to support just about any solution they think could get crime under control. A whopping 80% of respondents said they support increasing police presence in the city. At the same time, investments in the violence intervention program Safe Streets drew overwhelming favorability as well, at 72%.

And Kromer noted that it’s hard to expect a police commissioner to poll favorably in an environment of such high crime: “How can you be a popular police commissioner when this many murders are happening?”

While the average Baltimore resident likely doesn’t know the ins and outs of the police commissioner’s job, “the average person certainly knows the impact on their community,” she said.

Reporter Nick Thieme contributed to this story.

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