Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy is looking ahead to what will likely be his fifth four-year term in office as the county’s top prosecutor.
McCarthy, 70, continues to lead challengers Bernice Mireku-North, Perry Paylor and Tom DeGonia by substantial margins in the Democratic primary. As of Wednesday, with early vote totals and all 258 precincts reporting, the vote totals were:
- McCarthy: 31,263 votes (48.5%)
- Mireku-North: 13,497 (20.9%)
- Paylor: 10,414 (16.2%)
- DeGonia: 9,287 (14.4%)
McCarthy isn’t declaring victory yet, but says he is confident that the results won’t change dramatically even as mail-in votes begin to be counted. As of Wednesday, 29,159 Democratic mail-in ballots had been received by the county, according to the State Board of Elections. More than 115,000 mail-in ballots had been sent to county voters, according to the state.
No Republicans ran in the state’s attorneys race in Tuesday’s primary, meaning that McCarthy would likely not face opposition in the general election in November.
Throughout the campaign, McCarthy’s opponents criticized him for having an office that lacked diversity and not doing enough to encourage alternatives to incarceration. In an interview Wednesday with Bethesda Beat, McCarthy discussed some of his ideas for a likely fifth term , including an independent study of his office that is examining racial and ethnic disparities in arrests, prosecutions and sentencing. The interview has been edited for clarity.
You’re currently leading by a large margin. How are you feeling?
I’m very thankful to the people who worked on my campaign and to every voter who came out and trusted me to do the job that I’ve been doing for a long time in Montgomery County. I recognize that there are lots of mail-in ballots to still be counted. And I will await that. But the trends are terrific in terms of percentages with early voting and [in-person] voting yesterday. So I’m very hopeful that the margin that I have now is gonna hold up.
Have any of your opponents called to concede?
They have not. To be honest, I didn’t know what the margins were gonna be and things like that. I think, just based on the margins, it would be shocking to see those kinds of margins be affected so that there would be any different outcome.
How do you plan to unite county residents who may have supported one of your opponents?
I actually appreciate that question. And I think that is one of the great challenges that we have in terms of addressing crime in the community, and just basic civility in the community. We have to come together. No single state’s attorney, no single police officer can bring us the kind of peace and security that we want in this community. We need participation from all segments of this community. And we have to continue to build trust in how my office operates, as well as how we police our community.
I think I built very good relationships with Ms. Mireku-North and with Mr. Paylor. I’ve probably gotten to know Perry the best. I think they represent people in the community whose voices need to be heard and I look forward to continuing conversations with members of the community, and with people I ran against. It would be silly not to use those individuals to help us connect with any segment of the community that feels to some extent that they don’t have an adequate voice in how we deal with criminal justice. I look forward to working with the police department and rebuilding the trust.
Some of your opponents criticized you for a lack of diversity in the state’s attorney’s office. Is that something you can improve upon?
Quite candidly, the reality about gender diversity is that 75% of my teams are headed by women, and 65% of my lawyers are women. So in terms of gender diversity, we are there and we have exceeded anybody’s expectations.
Twenty percent of my attorney staff is African American. There has been a greater struggle to recruit attorneys from the Hispanic community, and we are trying to do that all the time. This office has always had a tradition of trying to be representative of the community.
I’m not taking credit for this because it’s been the tradition of this office that goes back to [former State’s Attorney] Andy Sonner, it goes back to [former State’s Attorney] Doug Gansler. We have consistently been a gateway to people from every segment of the community.
If you go and ask the police department, who are desperately trying, they’re making maximum efforts to try to recruit more Hispanic officers and African American officers to the police department. Unfortunately …. those jobs are not being filled at the level we need them to be filled. The criminal justice community … some of the issues I face here, are faced to a greater or lesser extent in law enforcement.
I worked for Mr. Sonner. I worked for Mr. Gansler. They had the same goals.
Could improvements be made in recruitment?
I think we could always do more. I think we have some strategies for recruiting at some schools where we might have better hope of continuing to recruit wonderful, diverse people to represent us in the office. It’s our goal.
We’re trying to do outreach with groups like J. Franklin Bourne (an African American bar association). We’re trying to recruit down at Howard University Law School. We’re trying to go to other places where we can get good, qualified minority candidates. And we want them to come. We also have the issue about who wants to be a police officer today, and who wants to be a prosecutor today. You still have to inspire people to want to come here and do this work, which is vital to making us a safer community.
It really does matter if people walk into a courtroom and see people that look like them as either judges or prosecutors or defense attorneys.
You’ve talked about the gun safety task force that you formed recently. What other initiatives do you have planned for your fifth term, assuming you’re re-elected?
Whatever comes out of the [independent study] we want to implement and address any issues identified. No. 2, we want to get dashboards up. Dashboards would be like a public look into how we operate by the numbers. For example, one of the issues of concern in the community … if you have diversionary programs … 5,000 a year get diverted … [is] who’s getting diverted and how do those numbers break down in terms of race, ethnicity and gender? Are you making sure those diversionary matters or programs are made equally available to people of every ethnicity and every race, so that it’s not just a program that serves the white community of Montgomery County?
People who say, ‘OK. Tell me about your drug court. Tell me about your alternative community service program. Tell me about your drug rehabilitation education program. What are your numbers? Who’s in them? What are the demographics on them?’ We’re building that data. Some of the data that we want we are refining because we are in the process of buying a new case management system.
I think you can build faith in the system through transparency, and that’s what we’re gonna attempt to do.
I also want to continue in terms of what we’re doing with gun violence reduction in the community and particularly focusing on gun violence and violent crime and ghost guns [used by] people under the age of 21.
And we’ve got to get the community reengaged in cooperating with us. One of the saddest things to me is that here, there have been incidents of gun violence. Maybe you’ll have a shooting where 30 or 40 rounds are fired between two rival groups, and it’s in the community. In days gone by, the phone would have been ringing off the hook in the police station giving us information … . But because the people who are doing the shooting don’t call the police, we sometimes find out about these things long after the fact. We can’t make this a safer community without the cooperation of the community.
Any thoughts on the close county executive race between incumbent Marc Elrich and businessman David Blair?
I think it’s gonna be close like the last time. There were a lot of ads that ran just before the voting that were pretty tough ads on the current county exec. I wonder what effect they had on the actual voting, or did they start too late to affect the mail-in [ballots]. Look, the two [leading] candidates ran a very close election [in 2018]. This is not gonna be any different. I think it’s gonna be razor thin.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org