O'Malley's Cynical Game

June 13, 1994

An intriguing political situation has developed in Baltimore City. With City Council President Mary Pat Clarke running against Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean facing criminal charges, the possibility exists that two of Baltimore's most powerful municipal offices could be vacant in next year's elections.

This has created an unusual amount of political jockeying. Several candidates are eyeing the City Council president's job; several others are positioning themselves to run for comptroller. As a result, most everyone is in a deal-making mood.

Unfortunately, this kind of scramble tends to show politicians at their worst. Instead of principle or public policy, they are guided by self-interest and cynical calculations.

Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley's behavior is a good example.

Hoping to curry favor for campaigns yet to come, Mr. O'Malley has proposed amendments that would short-circuit one of the charter revision commission's most crucial recommendations. Under that recommendation, the real estate division would be removed from the comptroller's office and transferred to the Department of Finance, where it rightfully belongs.

Detecting a surge of public sympathy for Ms. McLean's plight, Mr. O'Malley is crying wolf.

"I really saw this as a ruse to rob the house, when the owner wasn't in. It was a power grab," Mr. O'Malley said, after proposing the real estate functions be retained in the comptroller's office.

Mr. O'Malley is wrong in assuming that the charter panel's recommendation had something to do with Ms. McLean. It did not. That recommendation was formulated well before anyone had any reason to suspect the comptroller of wrongdoing.

He is also wrong on the merits of the case. Instead of being a "power grab," the recommendation follows a course that a number of charter revision bodies have taken over the past three decades in the belief that the comptroller's office is poorly equipped to deal with complicated fiscal matters.

A good case could be made for abolishing the comptroller's office altogether. But the charter panel feels it ought to exist as an auditing vehicle and that the comptroller provides needed balance on the Board of Estimates, where most of the votes are controlled by the mayor.

We urge the council to reject the O'Malley amendments today. Their passage would set the clock back.

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