Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pat Jessamy's Priorities

Every legislative session Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy descends upon Annapolis amid a flurry of press releases that proclaim her ardent desire for better gun and gang laws to further the fight against violent crime.

But anyone who wants to know her real agenda need look no further than last Thursday’s state Senate hearing on a bill to increase penalties for convicted felons who carry guns.

Jessamy has complained about the current law for years. Now she had a chance to throw her weight behind a proposed law that has garnered support not only from police and prosecutors but from some leading defense attorneys as well.

Jessamy arrived with her usual entourage. WBAL-TV put her on the news that night and posted a story about her on its website. But it neglected to report that she never testified.

Steve Levin, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, wrote an eyewitness account of what happened at the Senate hearing.

After Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake testified for the bill, Jessamy’s spokesperson and alter ego, Margaret Burns, was heard complaining that Rawlings-Blake hadn’t sufficiently praised Jessamy for her efforts against gun crime.

So when the committee took a break, Jessamy and her entourage left. This despite another WBAL report last month that Jessamy planned to "be in Annapolis all session long...advocating for stronger penalties for felons in possession of handguns."

Every other witness waited and testified, but not Jessamy. She packed up and went home.

Vintage Jessamy. When it comes right down to it, her real priorities are credit and control.

Jessamy's duty to the citizens who elected her was to testify on that bill. If she felt insulted by the mayor she could have privately complained later. Instead, she bailed on her constituents.

What’s especially ironic is that Jessamy deserves so little of the credit she tries to grab. For example, she had the chance to be an innovative leader against violent crime with the War Room years ago but buried the program instead. When the city gave her a team of prosecutors to focus on dangerous offenders who violate probation she had no idea what to do until federal prosecutors created the blueprint.

It's mainly through the leadership of U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein that Baltimore has effectively focused on violent offenders in recent years. The State Department of Public Safety added its own program, the Violence Prevention Initiative, and the Mayor’s office created Gunstat.

In other words, all of the creative vision and leadership have come from outside Jessamy's office. Jessamy initiated nothing, other than press releases. She just follows along, demanding credit as she goes.

And the others give it to her, too, especially Rosenstein and Sheryl Goldstein, who heads the Mayor's office on criminal justice. They try as hard as they can to forge a harmonious relationship. It’s never enough.

What's particularly disheartening is Jessamy's return to the "disrespect" card that she played so often and so well after Mayor Martin O'Malley, a white male, openly insulted her work ethic and judgment nearly a decade ago. She retaliated by attacking and undermining O'Malley's police department and came out the "winner" by staying in office. The losers, of course, were the citizens of Baltimore.

But now Jessamy plays the card against an African-American female like herself, someone who just took office as mayor in challenging times and who testified in support of the same bill Jessamy supports.

It isn't about disrespect after all. Or what's in the interest of public safety. It's about Pat Jessamy's desire to be top dog.

I see stormy clouds ahead. Watch for ecalating leaks and negative stories about the police department as a means of controlling the mayor. Jessamy and her hatchet woman, Burns, may be gearing up for another public feud based on nothing more than Jessamy's insatiable ego.

Related prior articles:

Baltimore's Failed War Room
Baltimore's Violent Crime: The Good News
The Cost of Failed Teamwork
The Pot Calling out the Kettle

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