Net to lasso voters, slogan to rattle rival

September 09, 2006|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

Stephan W. Fogleman, a local attorney with little name recognition or city courtroom experience, entered the Baltimore state's attorney's race at the last minute. And he knows he has an uphill battle trying to defeat Patricia C. Jessamy, who has held the post for 11 years and handily won two previous elections.

But in his patched-together campaign of Web sites and hasty news conferences, Fogleman, 37, has tried to ignite a long-simmering criticism of Jessamy -- her relationship with Mayor Martin O'Malley and his police commissioners.

"My opponent has a bad relationship with everyone," Fogleman said.

Both candidates are Democrats and are the only two running for the city's top-prosecutor position. The primary is Tuesday.

To buttress his slogan, "fight crime, not cops," Fogleman said Jessamy has bashed the popular police program of monitoring some city street corners through closed-circuit video surveillance cameras.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions should have identified Karen Friedman as an incumbent judge seeking re-election in Tuesday's Democratic primary to the Baltimore Orphans' Court, where she has served since 2001. The article should have identified Ramona Baker-Moore as a newcomer campaigning to unseat one of the three Orphans' Court judges. The Sun regrets the error.

Jessamy, through her spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns, has said the footage is usually too grainy or blurry to be used in court. The state's attorney said citizens have a right to accurate information about the expensive cameras, even if it isn't what the Police Department wants to hear.

In written responses to a reporter's questions, Jessamy said she is not responsible for the disconnect between her office and the police department.

"Is this a one-way street -- where is I don't agree with the Mayor or the Police Commissioner(s), that it is me picking a fight, as opposed to someone deliberately picking a fight with me, or setting us up to fail?" she wrote.

She referenced an incident that may be at the heart of her poor relationship with O'Malley: In January 2001, the mayor unleashed a profanity-laced tirade against her, saying she didn't have "the guts" to prosecute a police corruption case.

Referring to that incident in her e-mailed remarks this week, Jessamy wrote, "I do not intend to do foolish things just to `protect' someone's image or ego."

Some political observers think that incident all but ensured her future political victories because many voters were offended by a white man being rude to an older black woman. Jessamy, a 58-year-old Mississippi native, said in a recent interview that she has not ruled out a run for mayor in 2007. O'Malley is running for governor this year.

In addition to playing on tensions between Jessamy and O'Malley and his police commissioners, Fogleman has been courting younger voters.

Fogleman -- he goes by Steve -- is a Canton resident, a professional beer taster and a former committee member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He has campaigned mainly by using inexpensive, online platforms, such as MySpace and YouTube. He has been a constant presence at summer concerts and festivals. This week, he picked up an endorsement by City Paper, an alternative newspaper.

"I am a regular person, and I may have had some fun hobbies in my time," he said, referring to his beer-tasting. "But the situation in the state's attorney's office is no laughing matter."

In the 2002 election, Jessamy defeated Lisa Stancil and Anton Keating. Fogleman said he considers Keating an adviser and has adopted some of his crime-fighting strategies.

Fogleman said Jessamy's failures extend beyond her relationship with the police department. He said her office has a "Yankees payroll and an Orioles record." He said her prosecution rate -- particularly for violent felons -- is "abysmally low."

The office's felony conviction rate was about 68 percent, down about nine percentage points from 2004, according to statistics kept by the state's attorney's office. Those statistics also show prosecutors dropped about 28 percent of their cases last year, compared with 20 percent the year before.

Jessamy responded in her e-mail that her office's conviction rate "did decline, to a degree" in 2005. Giving reasons "not excuses," she wrote, such as "police misconduct, witness intimidation issues, police and civilian failure to appear issues and constitutional problems with search and seizure."

But Fogleman said it's time for her to stop placing the blame on others and that the office needs new leadership.

Fogleman said he had eagerly anticipated learning who Jessamy' new opponent would be. But come July 3, the last day to file candidacy, there was still not word of a challenger. So he decided to do it, filing about 30 minutes before deadline.

"I'm more than just an alternative name," he added.

In other contested courthouse races, all of which involve Democrats, Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway faces a challenge from William Allen, Shelton J. Stewart faces off against Sheriff John W. Anderson, and four people, including newcomer Karen Friedman, are vying for the three Orphan's Court slots. Sitting Orphan's Court judges Ramona Baker-Moore, Joyce M. Baylor-Thompson and Lewyn S. Garrett are also running.

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