Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley began his political ascendancy during the 1990s by challenging the crime numbers of the Baltimore City Police Department when he was one of three councilmen in the old Third District of Baltimore City.

O’Malley argued the department’s crime statistics, specifically homicides and shootings, just didn’t add up and the burgeoning politician parlayed his persistence into a reputation for toughness on crime and eventually a path to City Hall.

Now, Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy hopes crime statistics during her tenure will help her beat back a vigorous challenge by defense attorney Gregg Bernstein for the office she has occupied since 1995.

Jessamy’s website for re-election features crime statistics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Maryland State Police from 1995 to 2009 with the heading, “Working together we have made a difference.” The current State’s Attorney argues Uniform Crime Report (UCR) numbers for Baltimore issued by the FBI and state police are down 59 percent overall from 1995 to 2009.

UCR crimes include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, breaking and entering, larceny theft and motor vehicle theft. Jessamy’s website claims total offenses in Baltimore have decreased from 96,243 in 1995 to 39,286 in 2009.

According to the statistics, the most significant decrease during that period has been the number of rapes in Baltimore, down 80 percent from 684 in 1995 to 154 in 2009.

Baltimore’s rape numbers have been an ongoing source of controversy since it was reported last month the number of “unfounded” or unreported rapes in the city is three times the national average.

The rape numbers and Baltimore’s incarceration rate – tops among big cities – could play a part in the debate over who should run the state’s attorney’s office for the next four years. Also a major factor in the discussion is the notorious “zero tolerance” policing policy connected to the city’s decision to settle a lawsuit for so-called illegal arrests.

Jessamy hasn’t faced a significant opponent since 2002 when former Baltimore City Councilwoman and attorney Lisa Joi Stancil and veteran defense attorney Anton J.S. Keating aggressively challenged her.

This time around Jessamy has again picked up the support of several powerful allies including former State’s Attorney and Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Congressman Elijah Cummings and the man who was the architect of Schmoke’s victories for state’s attorney and mayor, University of Maryland Law professor Larry Gibson.

Gibson, one of the most effective and respected political strategists in Maryland earned an international reputation for winning elections when he helped guide Helen Johnson Sirleaf to victory in Liberia in Nov. 2005, which made her the first woman in history to become president of an African nation.

“I have had almost no involvement in local politics since Kurt Schmoke left office in 1999. Most of my recent political organizing has been in Africa. But I intended to help Pat Jessamy be re-elected,” he said in an e-mail a few days ago.

Gibson told me he is not working with Jessamy’s campaign in an official capacity, but characterizes himself as a supporter of the current state’s attorney. “She has done a very good job under difficult circumstances,” Gibson said. “What I like about her are her energy, her can do attitude, and her constant search for new ideas and approaches. So many elected officials, after a few years in office, get complacent and just ride along. Jessamy seems to be constantly pressing the legislature to pass a new law or creating a new task force or partnering with some other agency to fight crime. I am sure not everything works, but she does not stop trying. Therefore, she should get some credit for good results.”

Gibson also takes issue with the credibility of Jessamy’s opponent, Gregg Bernstein.

“Bernstein keeps saying that Baltimore City has the lowest conviction rate for violent crime in the state. He knows that there are not any reports that compare the conviction rates of the Maryland subdivisions,” Gibson argued.

“He admitted to the City Paper on 7-14-10 that, ‘he does not know how well other jurisdictions fared prosecuting violent crime.’ Yet, he continues to repeat on his website that Baltimore has the lowest conviction rate,” Gibson added.

“So, I guess that what has brought me out of retirement is that the last thing that Baltimore needs is a dishonest prosecutor.”