Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Race of Jessamy vs. Bernstein: Vote for Serious Change or Vote to Perpetuate Failed Leadership

–Richard E. Vatz

As a professor of political rhetoric, I honestly cannot think of a candidate I have ever wrongly supported or opposed, but my prognostication skills are not equal to my judgment calls.

I wrote in Red Maryland weeks ago and said on several television and radio stations that Gregg Bernstein had no chance against Patricia Jessamy for the State’s Attorney’s race in Baltimore City.

I may have been premature – okay, wrong — in that judgment.

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Assuming that the race is in doubt, let me assert the argument that Baltimore City should elect Mr. Bernstein.

It is not a close call.

In the State’s Attorney’s race in Baltimore City, the primary race for which begins today and ends September 14 — don’t make me explain; I dislike early voting and all other little tricks which expand the electorate to include those who have little interest or knowledge in or of the issues in political races – I can make no case for voting for Patricia Jessamy over her challenger, Mr. Bernstein.

This Red Marylander has written several columns about this race and its participants. The arguments for voting for Bernstein and against Jessamy are overwhelming: to wit, their relative competence, demeanor, value hierarchy and specifically, manifest concern for the safety of the citizens of Baltimore, which category, alas, includes people close to the author of this article.

Through several debates and months of campaigning it has become undeniable that re-electing Patricia Jessamy guarantees the continuance of a State’s Attorney’s office which is insufficiently concerned about expending the energy to put dangerous felons behind bars and/or putting them there for long periods of time.

The statistical arguments have already been made regarding her low 35% conviction rate and the fact, as Bernstein points out, that in “2009, 80% of the 6500 domestic violence cases in District Court were effectively dismissed.” Add to that the horrendous representative fact that in the case of the murder of Stephen Pitcairn, his killer had been earlier caught on city surveillance cameras robbing a man, but the case was not prosecuted because a witness recanted.

Mr. Bernstein promises a sea change in the attitude and seriousness of the pursuit of felons by the State’s Attorney’s office. He promises serious prosecution and a “hands-on” State’s Attorney. He promises a reversal of the criminal-friendly statistics above.

Regarding the problem of witness fears of testifying, candidate Bernstein also has credibly alleged that Mrs. Jessamy’s office will not prosecute cases in which there is a willing-to-testify witness, if there is only one such witness. Such a policy adds more points on a road map for criminals.

Stunningly, the defense of this policy by Mrs. Jessamy’s campaign spokeswoman, Marilyn Harris-Davis, was as follows: “As a general rule, the state’s attorney does not prefer to proceed with single-witness cases in which there is a single, uncorroborated witness.” In the past, according to The Baltimore Sun, Mrs. Jessamy has claimed unconvincingly that prosecuting with only one witness jeopardizes sustaining convictions.

Please spare me the questionable statistics regarding alleged diminution of crime in the city. Even if true, such statistics do not reflect excellence in the State’s Attorney’s office, still leave the absolute and relative danger of crime in the city and ignore the “revolving door” problem encouraged by that office. Also, please do not misunderstand: the pillars of justice are also cracked by the woefully irresponsible judges in the city (and to a lesser extent in the rest of Maryland) but also by weaknesses created by the police. At least, though, the police are trying to enact changes to relieve the criminality problem in Baltimore.

Nineteenth Century political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous dictum that “in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve” is overly-simplistic today. Certainly large voting minorities do not deserve reckless public policy by the State’s Attorney’s office and an utterly unresponsive criminal justice system generally. The threat to public safety, created by irresponsible voters who re-elect intelligent-but-inadequate leaders, leaves those voters morally responsible. Equally true, however, is that it leaves all of the electorate and those who are not old enough to vote or not eligible to vote vulnerable.

Yes, Baltimore citizens’ safety and lives and quality of life are all jeopardized if voters re-elect people who don’t take their civic responsibilities seriously.

–Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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