Council fray is simply an old fight, new people

March 11, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Have you heard the joke going around about the James Kraft doll?

Wind it up, and Mayor Martin O'Malley will talk for 15 minutes. If the doll happens to be talking to State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, it'll talk 10 minutes and then walk out.

I got a million of 'em.

Kraft is the 1st District city councilman who heads the public safety subcommittee. It is now Day 3 after the eruption between Jessamy, Kraft and City Council Vice President Stephanie Rawlings Blake, the chairwoman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee. Kraft and Rawlings Blake left a council hearing Wednesday night as Jessamy tried to answer questions about budgeting for - and the effectiveness of - her office.

After leaving, Kraft went before television cameras and did a great deal of harumphing in the hallways.

"She's not a prosecutor," Chairman Harumph-Harumph snorted.

Kind of sounds like O'Malley, doesn't it? Only without the cuss words. It's been a few years since O'Malley chided Jessamy, urging her to get off her derriere and prosecute a case against a corrupt cop. Only problem was that evidence against the cop was stolen. And it wasn't stolen from Jessamy's office. It was stolen from an office run by the Baltimore Police Department.

O'Malley's outburst drew protests from quite a few folks. About 100 black women - some of them elected officials - gathered outside City Hall within days of the mayor's tirade to let Hizzoner know he had made an egregious faux pas. Now O'Malley no longer needs to criticize Jessamy. He can just let Chairman Harumph-Harumph do it.

And Chairman Harumph-Harumph did exactly that - in an executive summary of his and Rawlings Blake's committees that was part of a 50-plus page report of "background materials" for the hearing.

"The Baltimore City State's Attorney's has received record high funding from the City of Baltimore with record low results," the executive summary begins. "The Budget and Appropriation Committee and Public Safety Committee ... have learned that the Office of the State's Attorney has not produced a violent crime fighting plan since the late 1990's. Additionally, the Committees have not been provided with responses to their questions from a letter to Mrs. Jessamy dated March 2, 2006, nor has the State's Attorney provided the Committees with any benchmarks or goals for 2006.

"The State's Attorney promised the Committees that it would pursue a management study to ensure adequate resources are being provided to the office. That study has not been pursued by the Office of the State's Attorney. The Committees will question the State's Attorney about the continuing decline in performance of the office. Possible 3rd party contributors to that office's declining performance will also be addressed."

Alleging that a public official's office has "declining performance" is a pretty serious accusation. What possible reason could Kraft and Rawlings Blake - who must share responsibility with Kraft for the wording in the executive summary - have for leaving the hearing?

"The decision to recess the meeting was not made to show disrespect," Rawlings Blake said yesterday. "It's been said that I was shouting, but I wasn't raised that way."

Rawlings Blake said it was clear that Jessamy had information to share with both committees and that she and Kraft had information to share with the state's attorney. Just before she recessed the meeting, Rawlings Blake said, she made it clear why.

"I said, `We have recessed until we have all had the chance to read the information and sit down and have an informed discussion,'" Rawlings Blake said.

Late Thursday night, Rawlings Blake and Kraft issued a statement, part of which read: "If, by our actions, we sidestepped decorum and anyone felt compromised or embarrassed, we sincerely apologize."

Jessamy, speaking from her office yesterday, wasn't buying it.

"They were attempting to justify their actions," Jessamy said of the statement. "The apology shouldn't be to me. It should be to the citizens of this city and to the members of the council." Jessamy said she came to the council with her own report answering all the allegations of "declining performance."

A spokesman for Kraft said he had no comment.

Can you imagine what it will be like when Jessamy, Rawlings Blake and Chairman Harumph-Harumph meet to have that "informed discussion"? Kraft has already labeled Jessamy as incompetent and "not a prosecutor." (I'll assume he meant "administrator," since few state's attorneys prosecute cases.) How does a relationship go up from that point?

It probably can't. The war of words between the mayor's office, the Police Department, the state's attorney's office and now James Kraft will no doubt continue. In the latest fracas, Jessamy might have gotten in the best shot - at city police.

"No one in our office is under indictment," she said at a Thursday news conference.

Touche.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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