O'Malley Cabinet hailed as diverse

Critics say picks include too many political insiders

'They look like us'

February 11, 2000|By Ivan Penn and Gerard Shields | Ivan Penn and Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley's Cabinet picks are gaining him accolades from veteran city politicians, who view the selections as payment on his campaign promise to make city government more inclusive.

Yet while O'Malley is applauded for making his appointments diverse, the group contains many faces familiar to city government, prompting some to suggest that they appear to counter the former city councilman's campaign pledge to "change and reform" city government.

The upper echelon of O'Malley's Cabinet includes African-Americans for the first time as heads of the public works and finance departments and women in the front-office power positions of deputy mayor and housing commissioner.

"They look like us," said former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, a North Baltimore Democrat who endorsed O'Malley's mayoral rival, Lawrence A. Bell III. "They look like Baltimore City."

However, one aide is an old high school buddy and the mayor's oldest, closest friend. Three are former employees or political allies of former mayor and Gov. William Donald Schaefer. And at least four others had the backing of influential state lawmakers.

"Six months ago, there was all this talk of sweeping the slate clean," said Douglas P. Munro, director of the Calvert Institute for Policy Research, a Baltimore-based conservative think tank.

"Now we have a former deputy commissioner, former deputy public works director -- not to say that they're not competent, but it clashes slightly with the impression."

Among those who most influenced O'Malley's choices were Northeast Baltimore state Sen. Joan Carter Conway; Northwest Baltimore state Del. Howard P. Rawlings; Schaefer, now the state comptroller; Richard O. Berndt, a prominent Baltimore lawyer; and the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of the 14,000-member Bethel AME Church and stepbrother of former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

O'Malley acknowledges that during decision-making sessions, he battled supporters to "check their interests at the door" trying to make politics secondary to the process.

"I never really set out to balance their interest as much as to solicit their advice," O'Malley said. "We just tried to get the best people we could. We went through great pains to have a well-balanced and inclusive team."

Some of the political interests, however, appear to have made their mark.

Conway lobbied for George L. Winfield to become the city's first African-American public works director, even as Schaefer pushed for George Perdikakis, director of Baltimore County's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management and director of the city's transportation division under Schaefer.

Winfield was laid off by Schmoke three years ago over personal differences with department leaders.

`A good candidate'

Conway acknowledges that politics played a role in the selections, but she insists, "Mr. Winfield was obviously a good candidate for Department of Public Works director. It wasn't a standoff between the former mayor, governor, state Comptroller Schaefer. It's just a little more than politics."

Although Schaefer thinks Winfield is doing a good job, he said he didn't like the way O'Malley chose him over Perdikakis.

"I don't know how he's picking them," Schaefer said of O'Malley. "He's his own man."

Conway also successfully urged the mayor to retain Jesse Hoskins from the Schmoke administration as the city's personnel director, because she said she thought he had done a good job.

Rawlings, O'Malley's most vocal political advocate during the campaign, successfully pushed for Jeanne D. Hitchcock, an African-American, to become deputy mayor for intergovernmental relations.

Hitchcock also had the support of her former employers, state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., O'Malley's father-in-law, and Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Rawlings also urged the mayor to appoint Peggy Watson as the first African-American woman to run the finance department, replacing Schmoke appointee William R. Brown Jr. Watson was the department's deputy director from 1987 until her retirement in 1997.

"What I'm happy about is the mayor kept his word," Rawlings said. "He told me he would have a diverse and inclusive government. I think he exceeded the expectations of many people."

The last appointment came Feb. 1, when O'Malley named Patricia J. Payne as the city's housing commissioner.

Schaefer and Berndt were advocates for Payne, who worked in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1979 to 1981 with Schaefer's former city housing commissioner, Robert C. Embry Jr., and was deputy state housing secretary when Schaefer was governor.

She also had the backing of Rawlings, state Sen. Barbara Hoffman and state Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg.

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