O'Malley enlisting private sector for assault on city woes

High expectations among voters for quick action against crime

Election 1999

November 03, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Mayor-elect Martin O'Malley says he will ask Baltimore's community and business elite to help develop a strategic plan for a widespread attack on the city's most troublesome ills.

O'Malley said yesterday he wants the private sector to help perform an audit of city agencies that will identify waste in such areas as health care and public works and to help find ways of reducing the city's crime rate.

"We're going to embark on a transition process that opens the doors of government," O'Malley said. "I'm going to invite a lot of private sector people into government. That's what they did in Philadelphia."

When he took office eight years ago, Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell created the Mayor's Private Sector Task Force on Management and Productivity, a group of 300 business executives lent to the city to help spot waste and inefficiency. Since then, the city has hired 46 private companies to handle many city services.

Representatives of the Greater Baltimore Committee said, after listening to Rendell's former chief of staff speak Friday about the virtues of business-government coalitions, that they would be interested in forming a similar group for the next mayor.

O'Malley has no time to sit idle. His inauguration is set for Dec. 7. And just over a month later, he will face the General Assembly for the 2000 session, during which he must lobby state lawmakers for financial and political support for his administration.

Meanwhile, Baltimoreans will want to see him begin to make good on campaign promises. At the top of the list will be sweeping drug corners clean and implementing zero-tolerance policing -- the heart of his campaign. He promised to shut down 10 drug corners in the first six months of his administration.

Political observers said O'Malley would have to show progress at least on crime by the end of that six months, or he could have a short honeymoon -- the euphoric period that follows a successful election.

"If he moves deliberately toward some of the policies he's talked about, he should do pretty well," said Matthew A. Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University. "If he doesn't deliver, some members of the council are going to need to complain."

O'Malley has assembled components of his transition team, which will take the lead in helping him pick personnel for key cabinet positions. That team includes several influential political, business and religious leaders.

O'Malley is expected to introduce members of his team at a 1 p.m. press conference today in front of City Hall.

The top transition officials include co-chairmen Richard O. Berndt, a politically connected lawyer, and Joseph J. Haskins Jr., president and chief executive officer of The Harbor Bank of Maryland.

Leading the search for a housing commissioner is the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of the 14,000-member Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and stepbrother of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. O'Malley tapped close friend Michael A. Brown, a law partner in the firm Brown, Diffenderffer and Kearney, as chairman of the public safety committee. And Clarence T. Bishop, senior vice president of the coalition seeking to bring the 2012 Olympics to the Baltimore-Washington area, is the chairman of the public works committee.

Over the next month, O'Malley said, he plans to rely on this team to help him piece together a new mayoral Cabinet and a plan to guide Baltimore into the next millennium.

The message from voters has been loud and clear since the primary election in September: They want to see a reduction in crime.

At the polls yesterday, voter after voter in East Baltimore's Barclay neighborhood cast their ballots with the hope that O'Malley will keep his promises and rid the streets of drugs, prostitution and murder.

"If they do crack down, I'll tell you one thing, all that stuff will stop and the people who live here will be happy," said 48-year-old Evelyn Mile.

While many Baltimoreans want to see O'Malley get tough on crime, they also are concerned about how he will use the zero-tolerance style of policing. Critics of the policy say they are concerned that it will lead to an increase in police brutality.

Wayne Jones, a 48-year-old construction worker who voted at the Barclay Elementary/Middle School, said he supports zero tolerance but added it would have to be implemented carefully.

"Lots of cops who work here have a chip on their shoulder and they'll harass you for just standing on a corner, doing nothing wrong," Jones said. "You can see it in their eye, they love it. But at the same time, some serious measures need to be taken here. Zero tolerance is OK, but it's all a matter of getting the right mix."

O'Malley has spoken out against brutality but insists that the open-air drug markets must close. He said he will be working over the next month to find the right personnel to implement his policies.

He said he believes he has assembled a strong, diverse pool of talent that will help move the city forward.

"Our actions are going to be very focused and very fast," O'Malley said.

Sun staff writers Gerard Shields and Kurt Streeter contributed to this article.

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