Jessamy sees a `smoking gun'

Council member's statement shows O'Malley's ties to meeting blowup, she says

March 11, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy continued yesterday to criticize two City Council members who stormed out on her at a budget hearing this week and, in her strongest words yet, attempted to tie the incident to longtime rival Mayor Martin O'Malley.

The city's top prosecutor pounced on statements made by one of the council members involved in Wednesday's blowup that a critical report distributed at the hearing was prepared by the administration.

"I was asked yesterday if the mayor's office was involved, and I said I had no proof," Jessamy said. "I think this is the smoking gun, if that statement is true."

The political uproar that dominated City Hall this week occurred after a routine hearing on an expected $1.9 million boost to Jessamy's budget. The meeting devolved into a heated exchange that ended abruptly when the leading council members walked out.

Council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake and Councilman James B. Kraft -- both O'Malley allies -- issued an apology for the incident Thursday and vowed to reschedule the hearing.

O'Malley responded to Jessamy's criticism by arguing that city departments frequently provide information when it is requested by council members. Administration officials also attempted to draw a line between the Police Department, which prepared the report, and the mayor's office.

"Whenever City Council members ask any city department for information, we provide it," O'Malley said. "That's fairly routine."

The report, dated March 8, included information on Jessamy's budget and conviction rates, and a stinging executive summary that said the state's attorney's office had not provided requested data and that it had exhibited a "lack of performance."

Still, council members barely mentioned the report during the hearing itself. Tension between O'Malley, Jessamy and some on the council has simmered for years.

Rawlings Blake said this week that the administration helped prepare the packet of statistics, but the councilwoman added that she and Kraft alone decided how to conduct the hearing.

Jessamy spoke at an event yesterday with O'Malley's Democratic primary opponent, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who was in Baltimore to announce a proposal to fund the state's drug courts at $8.5 million a year.

State funding for Maryland's 27 drug courts -- which puts offenders on a rigorous and closely monitored path toward recovery -- was set at about $800,000 this year, though the program also receives several million in local and federal grants.

"Our state's drug courts remain critically underfunded despite being an effective alternative to jail," Duncan said. "This is at the heart of good, effective government."

But the council dispute enveloping City Hall overshadowed Duncan's underlying announcement, and the Democrat jumped into the fray to paint O'Malley as a politician who is overly eager to argue with colleagues who could help him reduce crime.

"The mayor and his allies are doing everything they can to distract the public's attention away from what is the crime picture in the city of Baltimore," Duncan said. "All of the partners who can help fight crime in the city, he's picking fights with."

Jessamy has endorsed Duncan, but this week she dispelled rumors that she is a potential running mate in his campaign. Being the city's top prosecutor is a more important job, she said, than being the state's lieutenant governor.

O'Malley defended his relationship with law enforcement officials. He said the electorate does not always expect elected leaders to get along, but does demand that they work together.

"Improving public safety in a city that had become the most dangerous and the most addicted in America required leadership and required us to change the old way of doing things and required us to make progress," O'Malley said. "That's what we've done."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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