No matter the final vote count in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s race or even which candidate emerges as the victor, city voters have sent a clear message: It’s time to change the way the city prosecutor’s office does business.
Challenger Gregg L. Bernstein, a white political novice virtually unknown outside of establishment legal circles, mounted a well-financed campaign in two months that has pushed Patricia C. Jessamy, a 15-year African-American incumbent, to the brink of defeat in a majority black city.
How and why did that happen?
Mr. Bernstein apparently tapped into a well of discontent with Mrs. Jessamy’s performance as the city’s chief prosecutor that transcends racial and class lines. He hammered away at her lack of aggressiveness in prosecuting violent criminals, her lack of strong, visible leadership and even her office’s woeful lack of technology.
In the midst of the campaign, several high-profile murders in the city seemed to add credence to his criticisms.
Mrs. Jessamy’s answers too often sounded like more business as usual. And many voters decided it was time to just say no.
Given the voters’ response, this election needs to produce some significant changes.
No matter who is State’s Attorney, the office needs to bring new tools, tactics and technology to bear in the fight against crime.
No matter who is State’s Attorney, the office needs to work more collaboratively with a police department that has emphasized arresting “bad guys with guns,” as Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III puts it.
That doesn’t mean for a second that the State’s Attorney’s office should compromise its independence or its integrity. It still needs to hold the police department accountable to properly conduct investigations and arrests.
But as things stand now, there is too much distrust and too little respect between those two key law enforcement agencies. When that happens, public safety suffers.
Finally, no matter who is State’s Attorney, healing needs to take place. Some ill-advised comments were made by Mr. Bernstein and Mrs. Jessamy in the heat of battle that could have become rhetorical incendiary devices in this racially divided city.
To the credit of the electorate, they did not, but neither episode reflected well on either candidate. The winner of this hard-fought campaign needs to reach out to his or her opponent in good will and pledge to work for justice in all communities while protecting the rights of all.
Baltimore has made hard-won gains in the field of civil rights and many key officeholders here are now African-American. But the legacies of racial discrimination and polarization are still with us.
Those who hold or seek public office have the responsibility to address issues in ways that engender trust and promote collaborative solutions among city residents.