Deputy State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy is building support to become Baltimore's next top prosecutor, even as a former city state's attorney seeks to reclaim his job and a young city councilman campaigns as the candidate for change.
The scramble to replace State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms began in earnest this week, sparked by the announcement that he is taking a Cabinet post in the Glendening administration.
William A. Swisher, state's attorney from 1974 to 1982, and Martin O'Malley, a 31-year-old councilman who is making public safety his cause, join Ms. Jessamy in seeking the $97,900-a-year job.
Three other lawyers also are considering a run for the opening, which is to be advertised starting next week. Although the process is still in its early stages, Ms. Jessamy will get the job unless a surprise applicant emerges, according to several judges who will have a vote on the matter.
Consider the opinion of Circuit Judge Thomas Ward. Perhaps the bench's harshest critic of Mr. Simms and the prosecutor's office, he praised Ms. Jessamy's abilities and said: "I think it's a 100 percent sure thing that she's going to be selected by the bench."
Such openings have historically been filled by a deputy state's attorney, and Baltimore's Circuit Court judges could seize the chance to make her the city's first female state's attorney. Ms. Jessamy also holds endorsements from Mr. Simms and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Elijah E. Cummings, the Baltimore Democrat recently elected speaker pro tem of the Maryland House of Delegates, also is pushing her candidacy.
"There are people who work hard every day in our government and they learn the work, they learn the skills of the trade, and so often what happens is we pass them by to go to other people," Mr. Cummings said. "There is no doubt this is a person with incredible experience that is second to none."
Mr. Swisher, who in many minds remains identified with the racially charged campaign that brought him to office, has outlined his ambitions in letters to the city's Circuit Court judges.
He cited his experience as prosecutor, and said he could remove the politics from the selection process by promising not to run for the office in 1998.
Meanwhile, Mr. O'Malley has worked the phones with the judges. The selection should not be "business as usual" because the office needs a tougher posture toward repeat violent offenders and drug-related crime, he charged. The 3rd District Democrat said he is independent enough to lead a new approach.
Mr. O'Malley, a member of the council's public safety committee, prosecuted cases in city District Court from 1988 to 1992. And he has the support of the city's Fraternal Order of Police lodge.
Noting that the appointee will serve nearly a full term before the position is up for election in 1998, Mr. O'Malley said, "I don't think there's precedent for a care-taking deputy to fill out a term as long as this."
Ms. Jessamy, who said she expects to get the job, responded, "It's not my intention to keep the seat warm.
"I intend to do the job, and after four years I intend to ask the electorate to vote for me for another four-year term."
Ms. Jessamy, 46, said she is stressing the work she's done during her seven years as Mr. Simm's deputy, and her experience as a defense attorney and prosecutor.
Once she is appointed, she said, her first act would be to make the office more efficient through technology, including an improved computer system.
The deadline to apply for the job is Jan. 31. The city's 26 Circuit Court judges will then vote on an appointment.
Others who said they are considering a run for the job are Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a three-term Democratic state delegate; Dwight Pettit, who ran unsuccessfully for the office in 1978; and Charles Lamasa, who unsuccessfully sought the job in 1987, when the judges appointed Mr. Simms to the position.
Mr. Simms has accepted Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening's offer to become secretary of the state Department of Juvenile Justice.