O'Malley's luck soars with Ravens

Mayor: Martin O'Malley's efforts to improve Baltimore's stature just became easier, thanks to the Ravens.

Super Bowl Xxxv

January 18, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

When former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was promoting Baltimore, the city was known for the TV show "Homicide." Mayor Martin O'Malley has a team in the Super Bowl.

Who would you rather be?

The Ravens' Super Bowl run has come at an amazingly fortunate time for the city and its popular young mayor. O'Malley and Baltimore together are riding a crest of positive publicity, with the city's murder rate down and his poll numbers up in the ozone layer.

Now, even the football team is winning, and the mayor's in full cheerleader mode, eagerly capitalizing on the city's first trip to the NFL championship game after 30 years in the cold.

"It's very important to show the whole country that Baltimore's back, and that Baltimore's on the rebound and that Baltimore's joining the ranks of the comeback cities," O'Malley said yesterday, after announcing a send-off rally for the team at 11 a.m. Monday at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater.

The mayor has made City Hall the political base of Ravens boosterism, issuing jocular executive orders, ordering a Ravens dress casual day for workers and, most visibly, lighting up the City Hall dome, city monuments and now the Bromo Seltzer Tower in purple.

He has urged business leaders to follow suit, and they are obliging; more and more buildings in the city skyline are turning a Raven shade of purple at night, and the new Marriott is spelling out "Go Ravens" in its window lights.

Sounds a lot like how another cheerleading mayor of Baltimore might handle it all.

"Oh, it's great. I mean, the Police Department, they have purple lights on!" said Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, twirling his finger in the air in the motion of a police light. "It means so much to a city to have a good ball team. It pours money in. The city gets national publicity."

In his 15 years as mayor, Schaefer established himself as the ultimate booster. To promote the opening of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, he dressed up in a bathing suit and straw skimmer, posed for photographs with a rubber ducky and took a dip in the seal pool.

No word yet on whether O'Malley will dress up as a bird, though he's often seen proudly sporting Ravens regalia. But in the storied tradition of Schaefer, he's saying things that might make one question his sanity in any other context, like scrawling "Festivus Ravenus to the Maximus!!!" on a memo to city workers last week.

"I've thought about face paint. I'd like to do face paint. A sort of Braveheart, tasteful Braveheart," said O'Malley, 37, with his clearly skeptical press aide at his side. O'Malley then added with a smile: "But it wouldn't look dignified, so I probably shouldn't do it."

Positive publicity

After years of negative publicity - from 300 murders a year to rampant drug addiction to a high syphilis rate - it's easy to understand why O'Malley is giddy.

"The kind of international attention that we're getting, you can't pay for that," said state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, an East Baltimore Democrat. "You really get to see the city in a different light. There's been so much focus on our problems - you know, high murder rate, vacant houses. ... Just the same way that Ray Lewis accentuated the negatives of the team and turned himself around, that's what the city's doing. We're heading in a very positive direction."

"It's a great reflection on O'Malley. He's got to be one of the luckiest people around," said Ed Hale, chairman of First Mariner Bank. "To come in and have all the things he's working on come through, like the murder rate, but then to have the team get in the Super Bowl, it's astounding."

O'Malley certainly appears more charmed than his predecessor, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who was unfortunate enough to preside over that "national joke" period in the city's history, when the proudest sports accomplishment was bringing home the Canadian Football League trophy.

"It's just good for not only the leadership of the city but the citizens generally to have something to cheer about," Schmoke said yesterday from his law office at Wilmer Cutler Pickering. "And that's why I'm so pleased not only for the city but for [O'Malley] particularly, because I know how tough it is to have to wrestle with these problems on a daily basis."

Schmoke not as lucky

Schmoke was sometimes criticized for not being the vocal cheerleader Schaefer was. He notes that he fought hard to bring professional football back to Baltimore and that the city benefited from having the baseball All-Star game at Oriole Park. He never got a stage like this, though.

"It's easier to cheerlead a 15-4 season than a 4-12 season," Schmoke said with a laugh. The Super Bowl, he said, "brings attention to the positive things of the community in a way that's hard to measure. I don't think you can quantify it in media dollars and cents, but over time it helps to change outsiders' perception of the city."

Schmoke, who has a self-professed football "addiction," has Ravens season tickets, but he doesn't have Super Bowl tickets and doesn't plan to be cheerleading in person at this game.

"I'll just sit at home with my Ravens jacket on."

Business leaders plan to take more advantage of the occasion itself, for "business development," as Greater Baltimore Committee chief Donald P. Hutchinson puts it.

"You take your best customers, you take your best investor, a significant board member," Hutchinson said. "This is a full-time job for two dozen secretaries right now who are trying to plan how to get bosses and bosses' clients and business associates down into Florida.

"So from that perspective, it has a different kind of impact," he said. "From a media perspective, you can't beat it. Only Texas is doing better this week."

Sun staff writer Sarah Koenig contributed to this article.

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