Challenger in city state's attorney's race raises more than $200,000

Jessamy campaign mum on fundraising totals; filing deadline is midnight Tuesday

August 16, 2010|By Justin Fenton and Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

The chief challenger to Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy announced Tuesday that he raised more than $200,000, a figure that experts say should continue to boost the visibility of a race that has been heating up.

Gregg Bernstein, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, raised $217,000 with contributions from about 450 individuals, his campaign said. The amount is more than Jessamy has ever raised in a full election cycle, according to campaign finance records, though Jessamy has faced only nominal opposition in the past. Jessamy will face Bernstein in the Democratic primary next month.

Bernstein entered the race as a relative unknown just before last month's filing deadline and still faces an uphill battle, according to observers. But this month he received support from Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who put a Bernstein campaign sign on his property, a move that prompted calls of impropriety from Jessamy.

"I'm gratified by the wide range of support that my campaign has attracted," Bernstein said in a statement. "Contributions have come from my colleagues in the legal community who want to see the system work better, as well as from people all over Baltimore who are tired of the revolving door of justice and the blame game, and think it's time for a change."

Jessamy's campaign would not release fundraising figures Monday night; at an event, Jessamy would only say that "they will be released." The deadline to submit fundraising totals is midnight Tuesday.

As of the last report filed in January, Jessamy had $28,000 cash on hand. She has held several fundraisers in recent months, including an annual birthday event and a fundraiser in Little Italy.

C. Vernon Gray, a retired political science professor at Morgan State University who said he knows Jessamy but is not involved in her campaign, said she hasn't had to raise significant funds in the past and might not have to in this race, either.

"I'm certain if she mobilized her fundraising machinery, I think she could do that well and better," Gray said of Bernstein's total. "It may be too late, but she has enormous visibility, and I think she's banking on that."

Jessamy and Bernstein debated last week on the radio, and Jessamy trumpeted overall crime declines in Baltimore over the past decade and repeatedly referred to Bernstein as a "liar" who did not understand her office. Bernstein said Jessamy's conviction rate is abysmal and that she too often gives up on cases or blames others.

Gray said Jessamy should not have called more attention to Bealefeld's yard signs, saying it gave Bernstein a boost. But he said polls show Jessamy with a comfortable lead, something political insiders have echoed in recent weeks.

"I think the polling that's been done shows she has an overwhelming lead and positive public support," Gray said.

Rachael Rice, a consultant working with the Bernstein campaign, said the campaign is generating support in what seems to be a down year for fundraising.

"It's a tough year financially for a lot of people, but we know in this office that [this] has gotten a lot of people's interest," Rice said. "He's got a lot of first-time donors, and it's neat for us to see people getting involved."

Records show Jessamy raised about $130,000 in the years preceding both the 2002 and 2006 elections.

The Bernstein campaign did not release details about the figures, but said $163,270 of Bernstein's contributions have come in since he officially announced his candidacy. Fifteen percent of the donors have been businesses and the rest individuals, but the campaign did not specify what percentage of the total funds came from individuals and businesses.

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