Dispatches from the Trail: Sign of the Times

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Thousands of lawns across Baltimore City are anointed with campaign signs representing the aspirations of political novices and wily veterans. However, no one sign has caused more of a stir than the red and white placard of defense attorney Gregg Bernstein – who is vying to be the next Baltimore City State’s Attorney – planted on the lawn of Baltimore City Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld III.

Given the animosity between the police department and the state’s attorney’s office – often played out publicly – it’s no surprise Bealefeld is backing Bernstein. But, I can’t remember when a police commissioner has made such a public declaration of support for any political office holder.

And Patricia Jessamy, the city’s current State’s Attorney, is emphatically crying foul.

“The campaign of State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy is disappointed by Police Commissioner Frederic Bealefeld’s blatant insertion of himself into partisan politics. The display on the commissioner’s lawn of a political sign supporting Mrs. Jessamy’s opponent is unprecedented and inappropriate,” reads a statement at Jessamy’s website for re-election.

“Unfortunately, this is just the latest of a series of inappropriate partisan actions and statements by Mr. Bealefeld,” the statement continues. “The Jessamy campaign has received reports of Commissioner Bealefeld, in uniform, actively attempting to recruit support for the Bernstein campaign.”

Commissioner Bealefeld has so far refused to comment publicly about Lawn Sign Gate. But, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said of Bealefeld’s decision to endorse Bernstein, “He has a right just like each and every one of us has, to express his political views."

“Fred Bealefeld has the vantage point to the city’s crime fight that no one has … and he’s made a decision to endorse a political candidate that he thinks would be in the best interest of public safety.”

And Guglielmi denied Bealefeld ever recruited anybody in his official capacity as police commissioner. But, that claim is now being disputed by the man Bealefeld allegedly attempted to recruit for Bernstein’s team.

“Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld is not telling the truth about how and when he asked me to meet with State’s Attorney candidate Bregg Bernstein,” Billy Taylor said via email. Taylor, a city resident has been one of the top music promoters in the region for many years. “Commissioner Bealefeld told the press that he made the request to me by telephone after work and when he was off duty. That is not true,” Taylor continued.

I decided to call Taylor to verify the email was authentic and not the work of some “MD4Bush” type kook. And indeed, the email was sent by Taylor.

“I have never spoken with Commissioner Bealefeld by telephone. Both of our brief discussions about Mr. Bernstein were in person and during regular work hours. On both occasions, Commissioner Bealefeld was in his police uniform and clearly on duty … The Commissioner and I have never talked by telephone about anything.”

Taylor’s email offered details of his encounters with Bealefeld, first at the studios of Radio One on July 21 and then on July 22 at a press event in West Baltimore, which included Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Taylor’s email also says he met with Bernstein on Aug. 2, at the Evergreen Restaurant on Cold Spring Lane at Keswick Road and informed him he was a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates in the 44th District. But Taylor, a Jessamy supporter, said Bernstein never asked him for his support.

Taylor told me he and Bealefeld are friends and the commissioner attended a church service at New Shiloh Baptist Church on Monroe Street, Feb. 21, 2010 where Taylor, who is also a minister, delivered a sermon.

Although Bealefeld and Taylor may have crossed one of America’s staunchest lines of segregation – during Sunday worship service – Taylor has made it clear he has no intentions of crossing to Bealefeld’s side and supporting Bernstein.

“We have some facts on our side … ,” Taylor said. “And I believe those facts will prevail. I believe Patricia Jessamy is going to win.”