O'Malley no fan of `The Corner'

TV: Mayor distances himself from the HBO series, saying it paints a gloomy picture of his city and its drug culture.

April 14, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Noticeably absent from Wednesday night's premiere of the Baltimore-based HBO miniseries, "The Corner," was Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Although he sent his chief of staff, O'Malley acknowledged yesterday that he has avoided any relationship to the gripping, six-part movie depicting the desperate world of Baltimore drug addicts.

O'Malley yesterday commended David Simon and Edward Burns of Baltimore, who wrote "The Corner," the book upon which the movie is based, but added that he doesn't think promoting the city's drug-addiction problem to the rest of the nation is in its best interest.

"I really don't need an HBO special to tell me what the problems of this city are," O'Malley said when asked about the project at his weekly news conference. "I do not promote problems; I choose to address them."

As the former city councilman who vocally criticized former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's liberal voluntary drug treatment policy, O'Malley yesterday appeared visibly agitated over the HBO special. He is currently trying to gain support for a new police commissioner from New York who is pledging to eradicate the city's estimated 100 open-air drug markets.

As a defense attorney and former state prosecutor, O'Malley said he is well aware of the "monkey on the back" of drug addicts.

Unlike Schmoke, who pushed for voluntary treatment, O'Malley is emphasizing the threat of incarceration as the impetus to get city drug addicts -- estimated at one in every eight adults -- toseek treatment.

In the last two years, Schmoke doubled the amount of funding to treatment centers from $16 million to $32 million. Long-term treatment -- the most successful according to counselors -- remains a critical hurdle with long waiting lists, city health officials said.

The movie -- based on the real story of an addicted husband, wife and drug-dealing teen-age son -- shakes viewers through its portrayal of the overwhelming cloud of despair that envelops their West Baltimore world.

Addicts rob neighbors, rip plumbing from vacant homes and steal from each other to gain the money to achieve their daily goal: the next high.

Their plight becomes even more tragic when city- and state-sponsored treatment centers turn them away with waiting lists of up to three weeks.

O'Malley and city drug-treatment advocates had hoped to gain as much as $25 million more for drug treatment in the city from Gov. Parris N. Glendening through the general assembly, which ended Monday. However, the city received $8 million more in new treatment dollars.

O'Malley, who threatened to dump bus loads of city drug addicts on Glendening's steps to emphasize the treatment need, said he appreciated the additional state funding.

But the colorful mayor, who has gained a reputation for his piercing wit, couldn't help but refer to "The Corner" in expressing his frustration about not receiving more money from a state with a $1 billion surplus.

"Maybe the governor needs to see it," O'Malley said of the film.

O'Malley was asked whether he worries that Baltimore-based television, such as "The Corner" and the critically acclaimed series "Homicide: Life on the Street," will compromise his new city slogan: "Baltimore -- The Greatest City in America."

"I'm never happy to see those things," O'Malley said of the shows. "I think the Walters [Art Gallery], the BMA [Baltimore Museum of Arts], the Eubie Blake Center and all those cultural institutions that make us the No. 1 city in America for culture -- not to just this proud mayor, but to Money magazine in their October 1999 issue -- are the things we should promote.

"I kind of envy the mayor of Providence, who has that wonderful show about his town," O'Malley said of the prime-time NBC show. "There are always colorful leaves blowing across the street and the lady is a doctor and she's doing good work and helping sick kids."

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