Legislators say they want to see more of O'Malley

Mayor's office put off invitations for weeks

March 04, 2000|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Nearly everyone in the State House seems to want to see Mayor Martin O'Malley succeed in putting Baltimore back on its feet. But some lawmakers are wondering if he knows how to take advantage of that goodwill.

The mayor's office let an invitation to meet with another county delegation go unanswered for weeks. O'Malley has appeared before legislative committees only a few times -- and the first time he did, he announced that comments by the state's chief judge made him want "to throw up."

And O'Malley has yet to visit key lawmakers who have the power to decide whether he will get the money he is seeking for his struggling city.

"One thing that hits me -- and would concern me if I were O'Malley -- is that we're sitting on a pile of money down here," said House Majority Leader John Adams Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat. "I'd be all over this place like a wet blanket."

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, who chairs a budget subcommittee that oversees millions of dollars in construction spending, said he has seen little of the city's legislative lobbyists and less of the mayor.

"You don't have to take me to dinner ... but it makes a whole lot of difference when you're one-on-one here," said Middleton, a Charles County Democrat. "You never take anything for granted."

O'Malley acknowledges some missteps but points out he has a lot on his plate.

"We're moving real fast on a lot of fronts -- police, crime and grime, and court reform, where we've taken the lead," he said. "All that is happening at the same time as our very first session.

"There's a lot for us to do all at once," he said. "We're not doing it as well as we will next year, or even next week. Is it as sharp as I want it to be? No, but we will get better."

Despite mild criticism, state lawmakers almost universally say they are impressed with the mayor -- his drive, energy and enthusiasm. Many credit O'Malley with focusing attention on problems in the city's court system, even if his tactics have earned him the reputation of being somewhat of an enfant terrible.

"There's something appealing about that little-boy stuff he does," said Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah, a Prince George's County Democrat. "He has a sense of humor -- and he appears to have a sense of purpose."

"You can't call him a do-nothing mayor," said Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., also a Prince George's Democrat. "He's into action. He's made substantial proposals. You couldn't ask for more than what he's doing."

But lawmakers say the mayor still has to learn how to work the system.

What seemed to trouble them most was O'Malley's reaction to Chief Judge Robert M. Bell's assertion that the court system had made "remarkable" improvements in the past year. "I'd like to throw up when I hear sworn judicial officers of this state saying we should have a celebration," O'Malley said at a committee hearing.

And this week, O'Malley drew stick figures to illustrate his plan to revamp the court system and sent them to Bell.

"If I hear any grumblings, that's probably the one thing -- the judges," said Del. Rushern L. Baker III, a Prince George's County Democrat.

While O'Malley has been in Annapolis a couple of times a week, generally to meet with Baltimore's Senate and House delegations, the mayor has missed opportunities to meet and greet other county delegations, some lawmakers say.

He and Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger did hold a joint reception for their legislators. But more than halfway through the General Assembly's 90-day session, plans for O'Malley to meet with three other county delegations languished until this week, after inquiries were made about their status.

An invitation extended to O'Malley earlier in the session for a joint reception with Baltimore City and Montgomery County senators and delegates was finally accepted Thursday.

"He has the opportunity to have a personal relationship with the Montgomery County delegation, but he hasn't seized that opportunity yet," Hurson said before the event was scheduled.

Invitations the city extended to Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties also were not followed up on until this week.

The Anne Arundel County delegation decided Thursday to join in the Montgomery reception. A reception with the Prince George's delegation was tentatively scheduled yesterday for this month.

"I'm spread thinner than I've ever been," O'Malley said. "I'll get to know all the legislative leaders over time -- and most of them have been very kind and appreciative of the various efforts tugging at my time."

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and others are sympathetic to O'Malley's situation. "Your first six months in the job are the hardest of your life. You're pulled in so many different directions," Duncan said.

O'Malley has the benefit of having in his corner two powerful heads of the Assembly's budget committees: Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and Del. Howard P. Rawlings, both Baltimore Democrats and among his early supporters in last year's mayoral election.

But that is no substitute for the mayor being in Annapolis, lawmakers say.

Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry is now in his sixth legislative session and believes he finally has gotten down what's necessary to negotiate the State House.

"I learned to be here -- by responding to people who suggested I could be more productive if I were here more often," Curry said. "It's part of the formula here."

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