Victorious Jessamy urged to act as a conciliator

Friends, some foes ask end to rift with mayor, police

September 12, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy is embarking on her third term after a decisive victory in Tuesday's primary, but one of her toughest accomplishments lies ahead - an improved and congenial relationship with police officials and Mayor Martin O'Malley.

O'Malley, who has repeatedly criticized Jessamy's performance since he took office in 2000, has recently exhibited mixed emotions about her. He said yesterday that he voted for Jessamy and would do his "very best" to work with her.

Jessamy is unopposed in the general election.

But he quickly noted that Jessamy - who got 45 percent of the vote Tuesday - did not win a majority.

"The fact that 55 percent of the voters of this city voted for someone other than the incumbent indicates that we have a great way to go before we truly improve the system to a level that all of us can be proud of," O'Malley said.

Although her public spats with the mayor have caused some to question her strength in the office, others say the mayor's outbursts against her helped solidify her win.

The most severe outburst occurred last year when O'Malley lambasted Jessamy in a profanity-laced tirade over her decision not to prosecute police Officer Brian L. Sewell, who was accused of planting drug evidence.

"When the mayor used to have tantrums against her it would immediately elicit support for Jessamy and against the mayor," said Matthew A. Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University.

Crenson said some of O'Malley's spats with Jessamy have been politically motivated to divert attention from problems in the Police Department. O'Malley flatly denies that, saying his remarks have been motivated by concern for improving the criminal justice system.

"There's never been anything political or personal about it," O'Malley said. "It's not as if she's barring my path to power or came from a different political club."

Jessamy, who has held the office since 1995, declined to comment for this article, saying through a spokeswoman that she would address the media in a news conference in coming days.

Kurt L. Schmoke, former state's attorney and mayor, said he believes Jessamy was re-elected partly because she has a strong base of African-American women who support her. But he, too, said she needs to quickly address her issues with the mayor.

"I hope high on her priority list will be a private conversation with the mayor about how they can work together on this crime problem," said Schmoke, who just prior to the election recorded a radio advertisement for her campaign.

"It's not right to have high-profile tension between the mayor and the state's attorney," Schmoke said. "Hopefully, they can come up with a game plan for a better working relationship."

Another Jessamy supporter, Carl Stokes, who is a former city councilman and mayoral candidate in 1999, said he hopes the state's attorney will not become complacent.

"She can see winning the election as great affirmation for the office and continue to do what she's been doing," Stokes said. "Or she can say, `I'm not doing as well as many people thought I could be and I know I have to communicate better and make changes.' I hope the latter."

Gary McLhinney, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said he also wants Jessamy to become a better communicator.

"Hopefully, one day she'll realize we're all in this together and she'll stop blaming everybody," McLhinney said. "It's got to be more than just words; it's got to be action so we can lower the tensions between the two agencies. She insulted us when she took credit for 31-percent reduction in crime."

City Council President Sheila Dixon, who also said she voted for Jessamy, said she doesn't want Jessamy's relationships to return to "business as usual."

"We all need to put our egos in our pockets and understand that we want to reduce crime," Dixon said. "I think Martin needs to let her run the state's attorney's office and work with her. Jessamy's got to be willing to work closely with the Police Department. The real test is now because she's been re-elected."

Sun staff writers Laura Vozzella and Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

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