Jessamy secures another term

Baltimore state's attorney has no GOP challengers

Election 2002

September 11, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, under political attack throughout much of her tenure, clinched victory last night in a three-way Democratic primary race -- the city's first battle for top prosecutor in 20 years.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Jessamy had garnered 44 percent of the vote. Her challengers, City Councilwoman Lisa Joi Stancil and Baltimore lawyer Anton J.S. Keating, trailed with 33 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

Jessamy prevailed over her challengers in what had been a fiery campaign punctuated with combative debates, scrappy radio confrontations and hostile accusations. In the end, Jessamy, who has held the position for 7 1/2 years, swayed the confidence of voters who had heard a steady stream of criticism against her.

FOR THE RECORD - The chart showing voting for 8th Circuit Court judges in Baltimore City contained errors. The corrected results appear below.
The Sun regrets the error.
8th Circuit Judge (5 seats)
Shirley M. Watts 44,578 21
Clifton J. Gordy Jr. 41,630 20
Lynn K. Stewart 41,049 20
John M. Glynn 40,690 20
John Philip Miller 39,550 19
John M. Glynn 3,184 21
Clifton J. Gordy Jr. 3,116 20
Shirley M. Watts 3,101 20
John Philip Miller 3,080 20
Lynn K. Stewart 3,021 19
(All incumbents)

"I'm very happy and pleased to serve the citizens of Baltimore for four more years," Jessamy said last night amid cheers and jubilation at her campaign headquarters in the Northwood Shopping Center. "The numbers tell me that the citizens of Baltimore want someone with honesty and integrity. I'm the one they chose to send back as state's attorney."

"I am forever thankful," she added. "I will forever have integrity; I will forever be a public servant."

At the polls yesterday, voters voiced strong feelings about Jessamy. Some said she was ineffective in prosecuting violent offenders, while others said she has unfairly absorbed blame for the city's relentless crime.

"She's been criticized too much. She deserves a chance to continue in her job," said Carol Stachura, 59, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Canton. "She has a really difficult job. What she's been criticized for was beyond her control."

The office of the city's top prosecutor has attracted numerous political attacks in recent years, with Mayor Martin O'Malley -- a former assistant state's attorney in the office -- taking jabs at Jessamy's performance and blaming her staff for crime problems.

At times the mayor became so irked by the city's prosecutors and judges that he took unusual steps, such as announcing in July the need for a citizen's watchdog group that he said would keep tabs on Baltimore courtrooms. O'Malley created the group after the accused shooter of a 10-year-old boy was set free on low bail, partly because city prosecutors didn't attend a bail review hearing.

The political scrutiny has made the state's attorney's office arguably difficult to run. But Jessamy has stood by her performance and said she has accomplished much in spite of the obstacles.

"This is a wonderfully deserved victory for her," said Assistant State's Attorney Stephanie Royster, 41, a Jessamy supporter. "She has accomplished so much for the city of Baltimore that for so long has gone unrecognized."

Throughout the three months of campaigning, Jessamy, 54, ardently defended her record and belittled her opponents' qualifications. She said she has helped reduce crime 31 percent since taking office and has improved prosecution of violent offenders.

Jessamy took a great deal of heat from her opponents over murder cases that they say her prosecutors have fumbled and over her unwillingness to explain those cases to the public.

South Baltimore resident Julie Helms, 57, said she voted for Jessamy because she trusts her and didn't know much about the other candidates. Helms said she is willing to overlook Jessamy's hostile political spats with Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"She's done a good job despite her controversy with the mayor," said Helms, an administrator with the Presbyterian Church. "I feel like I can trust her sense of justice."

Jessamy, a Mississippi native, was appointed in 1995 and ran unopposed in 1998. She has worked in the state's attorney's office for 17 years.

"She's focused on the community," said James Chestnut, 41, who lives in the Sandtown-Winchester section of the city. "She seems to care about people."

Jessamy said that she campaigned hard and that voters respected her approach.

"I didn't want to take anything for granted. I didn't want to underestimate my opponents," she said.

Stancil, 39, is a Baltimore native who represents the 3rd District on the City Council. She was an assistant state's attorney in District Court for two years and now has a private practice.

She has verbally attacked the state's attorney's office, saying her clients who face charges in Baltimore think they're a "joke" compared to charges in other jurisdictions like Baltimore County.

But with the end of the race came civility. Stancil called Jessamy last night and congratulated her on the victory.

"I look forward to working with you," Stancil said in the conversation. Later, she reflected on her campaign.

"Of course we're disappointed. We know that 98 percent of the time an incumbent wins, but we thought hard work could overcome that," Stancil said. "We need to move forward now, whatever our roles are, to make sure Baltimore is safe."

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