Jessamy declines run for mayor

City prosecutor says fighting crime is more important

July 01, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said yesterday that she will not run for mayor.

Jessamy ended two months of speculation over whether she would join the seven-candidate Democratic field trying to succeed departing Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in December.

The 50-year-old prosecutor, who won re-election to a four-year term last year unopposed, said fighting crime is more important than seeking higher office.

"The state's attorney's office is underfunded and understaffed," Jessamy said in announcing her decision. "Someone has to stand up and fight for the resources Baltimore needs to stem the tide of violent crime."

Jessamy was appointed in 1995 to fill the term of her boss, Stuart O. Simms. Simms was tapped to be the state's secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

To make a successful mayoral run, Jessamy faced several hurdles.

The only publicly released voters poll on the mayor's race conducted last month by Gonzales/Arscott Communications Inc. in Annapolis showed that Jessamy lacked name recognition.

About a third of 411 likely voters surveyed didn't recognize Jessamy.

In addition, respondents reacted with an equally favorable and unfavorable opinion of Jessamy. Jessamy gained just 9 percent of the survey vote.

"Despite holding citywide office, her name identification is not what you would expect," the polling company's Carol Arscott said yesterday of Jessamy's opting out of the race.

Jessamy's tenure as state's attorney has involved disputes with the Police Department over dropped cases and clashes with City Council members over her reluctance to support the zero-tolerance policing strategy that has helped other cities cut murder rates.

During the past six months, Jessamy has been embroiled in the struggle to unclog city courts. The court woes intensified in March when The Sun detailed the case of armed robbery and carjacking suspects Christopher Wills and Kevin Cox, who were freed in November after a judge ruled that prosecutors took too long to take them to trial.

Federal agents rearrested the two, who pleaded guilty.

In an effort to relieve the backlog, Jessamy recently agreed to begin reviewing police charges levied against suspects. The process, which will begin today, is expected to weed out weak cases that disrupt the system. Court officials estimate that more than 15 percent of police arrests are too weak to try.

In return for taking the responsibility, Jessamy gained a 10 percent boost in her $15.2 million office budget. She contends the money is not enough to adequately handle the number of court cases.

"After many discussions with family and friends and after prayer, thought and deliberation, I have decided that this is not the right time for me to run for mayor," Jessamy said.

"The challenges facing our city from education to crime are of great concern to me and others who love Baltimore."

Pub Date: 7/01/99

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