Refreshing thing about Martin O'Malley's victory...

THE MOST

September 19, 1999|By Norris West

THE MOST refreshing thing about Martin O'Malley's victory in Baltimore's Democratic mayoral primary was his multiracial support. Although he is white, he garnered a significant number of African-American votes in the majority black city.

Mr. O'Malley, an attorney and city councilman, defied conventional wisdom that he could win only by grabbing almost all the white vote and watching the two leading African-American candidates split the black vote.

But African Americans as well as whites put their trust in Mr. O'Malley, and because of that, Baltimore has the look of unity for the first time in years.

Different chord

Annapolis Alderman Herbert H. McMillan and his anti-loitering bill have struck a much different chord.

Like Mr. O'Malley, Mr. McMillan wants to do something about crime. He introduced legislation that would allow police to arrest loiterers when they are suspected of dealing drugs in public housing developments. He says residents complained about the drug problem when he campaigned in African-American communities last year.

Unlike Mr. O'Malley, however, the Annapolis alderman has failed to gain visible support in the communities that would most affected by his legislation. Perhaps that is because Mr. O'Malley has worked extensively with African-American politicians on issues, while Mr. McMillan does not have a similar history.

He angered some people when he voted to cut funds from Annapolis' annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival, and he has failed to build relationships with his black constituents.

Tolerating `zero tolerance'

Despite wanting safer neighborhoods, citizens have spoken out against the anti-loitering measure. They view it as an infringement on their rights and fear it will give police too much power.

In Baltimore, some people, including Democratic mayoral candidate Carl Stokes, raised similar objections to Mr. O'Malley's "zero tolerence" crime platform. But Mr. O'Malley was able to allay fears, judging by his overwhemling primary victory.

Mr. McMillan is trying to amend his bill to make it more palatable, such as limiting people to only moving along loiterers who have at least two prior drug convictions.

But he doesn't seem to be winning over many converts. Strong opposition persists.

The outcome of Mr. McMillan's measure is uncertain; a City Council vote is expected this fall.

African-American groups protested against the measure in a number of ways, including a march from Prince George's County to Annapolis.

The issue has so angered some African-Americans in Annapolis that they circulated a petition to recall Mr. McMillan, who was elected last year.

Scant official support

Most public officials in Annapolis have stayed out of the discussion.

Patricia Croslan, director of the Annapolis Housing Authority, is one of the few officials who has publicly supported the legislation. She believes a law that gets troublemakers off the streets will help restore order to neighborhoods troubled by crime.

The Annapolis Neighborhood Block Watch is another supporter.

Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson and Police Chief Joseph Johnson, conspicuously, have avoided the debate.

Unifying Annapolis

Mr. McMillan has failed to become a friend of African-Americans the way Mr. O'Malley has. Without having established those credentials, he is viewed with suspicion.

But, despite the debate over the ordinance, the alderman has brought needed attention to the crime problem in Annapolis housing developments.

The state capital would be better served, though, if the alderman and his foes can become partners for the community.

This is one time Annapolis could take a lesson from Baltimore.

Mr. O'Malley's nomination presents a lesson on how a public official can win support while introducing a radical policy: Build partners, not opponents.

Norris P. West is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County. His e-mail address is norris.west@baltsun.com.This line is longer than measure/can't be broken

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