There’s a new sheriff in town.
After a week of early voting, primary night vote tabulations and six days of counting mail-in and provisional ballots, challenger Sam Cogen emerged as the winner in a heated contest for Baltimore sheriff that pitted him against his former boss Sheriff John Anderson, the city’s sheriff of more than three decades.
Final returns, reported Friday evening, showed 39,500 votes for Cogen to Anderson’s 36,733. The race, which remained too close to call for a week and a half, was decided in the end by 2,767 votes.
Cogen, 48, was just 15-years-old when Anderson was first appointed sheriff by then Gov. William Donald Schaeffer. The challenger waged a spirited campaign, pledging to modernize the office, which he said has been technologically inadequate during Anderson’s tenure.
Cogen also has promised reforms to “humanize” the city’s eviction process, which falls under the sheriff’s authority.
The sheriff’s approach to evictions has been a sore subject for some on the Baltimore City Council, and criticism came to a head in the weeks leading up to the primary. As members weighed the budget for the sheriff’s office in June, several lamented Anderson’s practice of placing eviction notices on shared or exterior doors to apartment buildings when deputies find the doors to be locked.
A 2001 opinion from then-Attorney General Joseph Curran calls for notices to be placed on the property being repossessed, specifically the individual apartment, absent “extraordinary circumstances.”
Anderson, who was paid a salary of $157,139 in 2021, argued the office is not bound by the opinion.
“It’s an opinion,” said Hikeen Crampton, director of district court for the sheriff’s office, amid a heated exchange during the hearing. “That’s not a law.”
Cogen campaigned on a promise to connect city residents to more services as they go through the eviction process. He also pledged to check all landlords seeking an eviction against city rental license records to ensure landlords are legally renting their properties. Anderson’s administration admitted during budget hearings that such checks are not routine.
The City Council’s concerns with Anderson’s tactics and a $500,000 cut to the sheriff’s office budget made in June drew attention to an office that often exists in the shadows.
Nine members of the City Council and Comptroller Bill Henry endorsed Cogen at a news conference in front of City Hall just two weeks after budget hearings. Of the endorsing members — John Bullock, Kristerfer Burnett, Zeke Cohen, Mark Conway, Eric Costello, Ryan Dorsey, Antonio Glover, Odette Ramos and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer — six also voted for the cut to Anderson’s budget.
Cogen’s campaign benefited financially from some of those council members. Costello’s campaign committee contributed $6,000, while Schleifer’s donated $2,000, according to campaign finance records.
In addition to high profile allies, Cogen had a veteran campaign team. He hired consultant Colleen Martin-Lauer, who was behind Mayor Brandon Scott’s successful 2020 bid for mayor and numerous county executive races as well as city delegation runs.
Cogen said his campaign targeted precincts where voters participated in the state’s attorney’s race in 2018 but skipped picking a sheriff candidate, also known as undervoting. In those areas, the campaign team knocked on doors and sent mail to educate voters on the role of the sheriff’s office and Cogen’s platform, hoping to motivate voting.
“We’d ask, ‘Do you know we have a sheriff office here and do you know who the sheriff is?’” Cogen said.
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The strategy appears to have worked. Nearly 30% of city voters didn’t vote in the sheriff’s race in 2018. But as of Friday, almost 90% of Democratic city voters who made a pick for governor also made a selection in the sheriff’s race.
As he campaigned, Cogen said he tried to impress upon voters that the sheriff’s office affects two issues of high interest to city residents: housing and crime.
“[Voters] have been very focused on police and the state’s attorneys office,” Cogen said of the city’s crime fighting strategy. “While those are main actors, everybody needs to do their part. The sheriff’s office was underperforming in those areas.”
Cogen said he plans to beef up the sheriff’s office warrant group to increase the number of warrants served in the city.
The Baltimore Sun made attempts to reach Anderson and his campaign team for this article, but they did not respond to messages.
Cogen said he tried to wage a campaign that respectfully disagrees with his former boss.
“This is a person who mentored me at one point in my career,” Cogen said. “I don’t have a lack of respect, but we don’t see eye-to-eye on policy issues. He was in a status quo mode, and I wanted to be a change agent.”