O' Malley relies on circle of advisers

City Hall job hopefus contact his allies to reach candidate

October 25, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Six months ago, Martin O'Malley was just another city councilman -- absent from almost every list of possible mayoral contenders. Now, as the Democratic nominee in this largely Democratic city and state, everyone wants his ear.

More than 200 people attended a $1,000-a-plate breakfast for the mayoral hopeful Wednesday. He's had to hire an assistant to travel with him almost everywhere he goes to record meetings and telephone numbers and take business cards. And he's handed over the pager he once kept at his side to another campaign staff member, who fields calls.

Much of the political jockeying is in hopes of gaining access to the bargaining table for the hundreds of key patronage appointments in the mayor's administration. Those jobs include what some call the "big three" -- public works director, housing commissioner and police commissioner.

In the midst of all the chaos, O'Malley turns to a small circle of trusted supporters that includes Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, lawyer Richard O. Berndt and Bob Moore, president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union. As their interests sometimes collide, O'Malley finds himself trying to smooth out the rocky political terrain.

"As we try to put together a transition quietly, I always encourage people to go watch `Lawrence of Arabia,' the scene where the Arab army makes it to Damascus ahead of the British, and they all start arguing over who gets to sit at what end of the table," O'Malley said.

O'Malley said he tries to assure people, even close friends, that he'll have an inclusive administration if he wins the general election Nov. 2 against Republican challenger David F. Tufaro.

"Lots of people will have seats at the table," O'Malley said. "People keep saying, `I'm out of the loop.' We have no loop yet."

O'Malley's circle of advisers is formed in part from longtime friends and political allies as well as backers of his primary election campaign.

Conway, a close friend of O'Malley's, was the first African-American politician to announce her support of his mayoral bid. Rawlings, the influential chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, brought legitimacy to the O'Malley campaign as he led a group of state lawmakers that endorsed O'Malley just days after Conway gave her endorsement.

Schaefer, the former mayor and governor, endorsed O'Malley during the primary and organized Wednesday's $1,000-a-ticket fund-raiser at the Renaissance Hotel at the city's Inner Harbor.

Berndt, a managing partner with Gallagher, Evelius & Jones and an attorney for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, is a longtime friend of O'Malley's. Berndt hired O'Malley to work on Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's senatorial campaign in 1986.

And Moore presides over the hospital workers union that endorsed O'Malley for the Democratic nomination.

If anyone has O'Malley's attention, it's this group of advisers, O'Malley said. And clearly that message has been circulating in Baltimore's political world.

`Very influential'

Last week, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city's health commissioner, met with Conway in his effort to keep his job.

"I'm interested in staying," he said. "I know that Joan is very influential."

O'Malley's advisers also have their agendas, such as a recommendation for City Council vice president.

Rawlings was pushing his daughter, Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings, who brought her father on board the O'Malley bandwagon. Conway wanted council Vice President Agnes B. Welch to remain in the position.

Delegate Rawlings won that struggle when O'Malley and Sheila Dixon, the Democratic council presidential nominee, said last week that they would recommend Stephanie Rawlings. The 19-member council must vote on the recommendation.

These are the kinds of issues O'Malley or Tufaro will have to contend with in their quest for City Hall's top post. Appointments and recommendations are among the most contentious ones the mayor faces.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has been criticized in recent weeks over the nominations for the police Civilian Review Board, a 12-member panel that will hear complaints about how officers treat suspects. The City Council must confirm the nominations.

Schmoke said that state lawmakers were unfairly challenging the process he used to pick his nominees. He said that if his nominations were rejected, he would leave the appointments to the next mayor.

"I will tell him that he would come under severe pressure to appoint people that [the lawmakers] like," Schmoke said.

The lawmakers said they want an open selection process that would allow people throughout the city to participate on the board.

But this is the nature of politics -- who can influence whom.

`Get the best talent'

Delegate Rawlings and other O'Malley advisers said they're hoping that their influence will produce a diverse group of people who can move the city forward.

"My focus has been to get the best talent as possible in the transition process and have it as open as possible, to encourage Martin, when he makes decisions about his Cabinet, that it is inclusive," Rawlings said.

"When you finally see the composition of a transition team, I think the public is going to be pleased, if O'Malley wins," he said.

Sun staff writer Dan Fesperman contributed to this article.

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