As District Attorney Mike Nifong was on national television Tuesday at the first court appearance for two lacrosse players charged with rape, one of his political opponents nipped at him through the telephone lines.
"We're desperate for new leadership in the District Attorney's Office," Freda Black's recorded voice said in an automated call sent to Durham voters recently. "What happens next? When the TV crews head home, who will be left to pick up the pieces?
"I am here, and I am ready to bring this community back together and to restore the trust that has been lost."
The Democratic district attorney primary May 2 was expected to be a bare-knuckle affair between former colleagues. But it is shaping up as a referendum on Nifong's performance. With no Republican in the race, the primary results will be winner-take-all.
Black did not return messages Tuesday. Before the lacrosse case, she probably would have been the candidate with the most name recognition. As an assistant district attorney, she helped prosecute Mike Peterson, the novelist and newspaper columnist convicted in the 2001 killing of his wife.
Black's 14-year career in the District Attorney's Office ended in 2005 with Nifong's appointment. Black has refused to discuss publically why she resigned, but after only a few months in private practice, she declared her intent to run for district attorney.
Keith Bishop, Nifong's other challenger, also has been critical of his recent performance but complimented him Tuesday.
"When you promise the public an arrest, it's good to deliver indictments -- even if they're late in coming," said Bishop, a lawyer who has never prosecuted a criminal case. "The community will be watching with bated breath."