Mayor weathers assembly

April 23, 2000|By Barry Rascovar

MARTIN O'MALLEY'S honeymoon is over. He's learned some hard lessons about life in the mayor's office.

Lesson No. 1 commenced with his exasperation over Police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel's stubborn refusal to embrace a tough-on-crime strategy the two men had agreed to in December.

When the commissioner continued to obstruct implementation of the plan, Mr. O'Malley took Mr. Daniel up on his offer to resign.

That triggered a round of finger-pointing by the mayor's enemies, who want to see him fail. Their inflammatory comments were designed to make him look bad.

Mr. O'Malley then survived criticisms for naming a replacement as commissioner who happens to be white -- something that incensed racist elements in the African-American community.

Moral for the mayor: Your enemies remain unrepentant. They won't listen to logic or bother to learn the details of your policing strategy. They will continue to try to embarrass you.

Pinning down aid

Lesson No. 2 took place in Annapolis, where the mayor learned that Gov. Parris N. Glendening is not Baltimore's best friend.

Naively, Mr. O'Malley assumed the governor would give him what he sought for Baltimore City's failing schools and woefully undersized drug-treatment program.

Instead, the new mayor got taken to the cleaners. Baltimore came away with far less than it had expected and far less than other large jurisdictions received.

For instance, new state aid for Baltimore this year totaled 2.8 percent -- far less than other big subdivisions. Baltimore County got a 4.8 percent increase, Howard County 6.5 percent, Montgomery County 6.4 percent and Prince George's 6.9 percent.

How did this happen? Mr. O'Malley made the mistake of sending a deputy mayor, Jeanne D. Hitchcock, , who is a rookue at lobbying, to Annapolis. He then failed to contract with a seasoned lobbyist to assist her in learning how to pull the levers of power.

The mayor also relied too heavily on Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and Del. Howard P. Rawlings to work fiscal magic. The two have considerable leverage on state budget decisions, but not in the critical early stages.

Mr. O'Malley's prime mistake was waiting until January to present the city's wish list.

By then, the budget had been set in concrete; the governor couldn't accommodate Mr. O'Malley.

Ask early and often

Moral: Come up with your 2001 state budget requests now. Get them to the governor by September. Start pressing Mr. Glendening -- in public, behind the scenes, through intermediaries -- to endorse city priorities well before the state budget is pieced together.

Timing is key. If the mayor can fashion and sell an aid plan to Mr. Glendening soon enough, it might become part of the governor's 2001 legislative package.

Waiting until November or December would be too late: The mayor would be stuck in a no-win budget situation again.

Mr. Glendening's lack of generosity means the new mayor won't have the funds to confront pressing issues. Incremental steps are possible in drug treatment and in the schools, but not the sort of quantum leap the impatient Mr. O'Malley seeks.

The mayor hasn't persuaded the governor to confront Baltimore's crime, education and criminal-justice crises. It's going to be a tough sell. Mr. Glendening's mind is focused on helping Al Gore get elected president and becoming a national spokesman himself.

From Mr. Glendening's standpoint, Baltimore's problems are tough to tackle and impossible to clean up overnight. He doesn't want to be identified with them. Mr. O'Malley must draw a road map (no stick-figures, please) showing how Baltimore aid can become a political plus.

Keeping pluses

So far, Mr. O'Malley has given the city a big morale boost. He's youthful. He's well-liked. His focus on crime reflects the will of the people. If the mayor has learned from his early missteps, he'll continue to confound his political enemies and find ways to deal more effectively with the governor.

Mr. Glendening controls immense amounts of money that could be devoted to drug-treatment, education and law-enforcement. Given Baltimore's tenuous financial condition, state aid is critical. Mr. O'Malley's failures in Annapolis must not be repeated.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial page editor.

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