O'Malley gets off to quick start

But, as mayor names staff, works on issues, public awaits results

`Energy of three people'

January 17, 2000|By Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn | Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Six weeks into office, Baltimore's brash, high-energy mayor is running full throttle -- sometimes recklessly and at other times with a natural grace that has left people cheering.

In sharp contrast to the aloof and cerebral Kurt L. Schmoke, Mayor Martin O'Malley has adopted a foot-on-the-gas approach that has quickly driven home the political version of the ad: This is not your father's Oldsmobile.

The city's 47th mayor has helped save 350 jobs by keeping a key downtown employer from moving out. He pushed through a contentious downtown development deal, appointed former city government critics to head key agencies, and embarked upon a cleanup that had him perched on a garbage truck, firing a jackhammer and sandblasting graffiti.

"He has the energy of three people," said William L. Jews, president of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, which in January dropped its plans to move its downtown operation to Owings Mills. "I have found him to be extremely responsive, caring and sincerely interested in making sure that the charge he received from the citizens is coming about through him."

But O'Malley's fast pace has made some city and community leaders as uneasy as parents handing over the keys to the station wagon to a teen-ager. They worry that the 36-year-old attorney and former Northeast councilman has shown a penchant for rash decisions that could lead to irreparable dents in intergovernmental relations.

The mayor has come under fire for appointing employees of past administrations to key posts. And his stinging comments in dismissing school board member Edward J. Brody for his support of mayoral primary runner-up Carl Stokes resonates through the city three weeks later.

"It's really rattling, ruffling some people's feathers because it's so early," 5th District Councilwoman Helen L. Holton said. "People worry about whether this is how it is going to be for the remainder of the administration."

Raymond V. Haysbert, a former owner of Parks Sausage who supported one of O'Malley's Democratic challengers, added: "Ed Brody should have been handled in a different manner. He should have first investigated the value of having Brody come back. I don't know how much research he did."

No apologies

But like blustery big-city mayors of old, O'Malley makes no apologies. When asked whether he tried to defuse the Brody criticism with a hand-written retort to a critical Sun editorial, O'Malley replied: "I dispatch my opponents; I don't play in their entrails."

And Baltimoreans loved him for it. A flurry of letters reached the newspaper, with praise for his chutzpah in challenging the paper.

"I think he's done a tremendous job," said Lena J. Boone, a member of Upton Planning Committee Inc. in West Baltimore. "I've watched him every day. Tremendous!"

Other supporters defend his brashness as characteristic of the honest government that he promised city voters, who gave him a mandate with 90 percent of the vote in November.

"The momentum is clear," state House Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, who endorsed O'Malley for mayor, said after the CareFirst announcement. "This adds to the momentum that the electorate wanted."

And despite his criticism, Haysbert said he believes that O'Malley, in general, has created a sense of good feeling around the city.

"He has had a major impact on the pysche of the city and the state of Maryland," Haysbert said. "All in all, I feel he's had a positive impact on the attitudes of the city."

O'Malley's challenge will be to maintain the support he's won for his administration and ride out his honeymoon as long as he can.

Community leaders said they're optimistic about the city's new chief executive, but they want to see drug corners cleared and vacant buildings restored and filled.

"So far, there's been nothing but talk about how he's going to revitalize the community," said Johnny Clinton, owner of a Park Heights barbershop. "These are the things we're waiting to see take place."

Jean Yarborough, president of Northwest Baltimore Corp., said she believes that O'Malley is doing a good job but is waiting to see the mayor make good on his campaign promises.

"I hope they live up to their promise to clean the drug corners in the first six months," Yarborough said. "My community will hold him accountable for the things he said he would do."

O'Malley's honeymoon as mayor has faced some troubled days. At his first city Board of Estimates meeting, the eight-year council veteran was chastised by city Comptroller Joan M. Pratt -- considered a potential mayoral hopeful -- for his backing of what she called a "sweetheart" deal for a city developer restoring the long-dormant city Brokerage buildings.

Before the new year dawned, O'Malley came under fire from the Afro-American for several of his Cabinet appointments, department employees of former Mayors Kurt L. Schmoke and William Donald Schaefer.

Critics complain that the appointments do not follow O'Malley's pledge for "change and reform."

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