New mayor gets to play with city's toys

O'Malley takes a turn driving a snowplow

January 21, 2000|By Ivan Penn and Tim Craig | Ivan Penn and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

It's as if Mayor Martin O'Malley landed in the world's largest playground.

Since he took office Dec. 7, O'Malley has hit the streets on the back of a trash truck, fired up a jackhammer to repair a city road and blasted graffiti with a high-powered sand and water blower.

Yesterday, the mayor climbed behind the wheel of a Ford Super Duty F550 pickup truck to clear snow from streets in former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's Ashburton neighborhood during the city's first winter storm.

"I ran for office so I could be a public works technician," O'Malley said as he raced up and down side streets off Liberty Heights Avenue, raising and lowering the plow on the front of the big yellow truck.

"My wife said, `I'm glad I didn't get you any [toys] for Christmas. You have enough toys.' "

O'Malley said he always wanted to drive a snowplow, and he couldn't have picked a better storm.

The few inches of snow that fell on the city caused few problems for new public works chief George L. Winfield.

About 300 city street crews hit the ground shortly after 1: 30 a.m. yesterday, plowing and salting all morning and then giving themselves a pat on the back by afternoon when all the main thoroughfares -- and some side streets -- were free of snow and ice.

"I think we did a wonderful job," said Winfield, leading the cleanup effort at the city storm center.

"It was really an uneventful morning, especially since there was high anxiety that we would have all these problems."

The storm was the first test of the new administration's response to weather-related problems.

Public Works in the past has been sharply criticized for failing to clear city streets in a timely manner, leading to traffic gridlock and dozens of calls to City Hall.

"Frequently when we get storms of this nature, we receive 75 to 100 complaints an hour," said Fred Raynor, the communications manager for the Public Works Department.

"For some reason it's just really low."

The city's success in cleaning up the streets had O'Malley grinning ear to ear.

"Everybody get in OK? Streets plowed?" the mayor asked reporters during his weekly news conference yesterday morning.

O'Malley did have one complaint about the Public Works Department yesterday: "They didn't plow my side streets," he said and smiled.

But by midafternoon, O'Malley jumped in a truck himself to plow side streets in West Baltimore.

What city equipment the mayor will try next remains to be seen.

"We have yet to bring back the [police] helicopter unit," O'Malley said.

"I'm looking forward to reactivating the helicopter unit."

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