O'Malley gives potholes priority in a campaign to fix streets fast

Mayor says workers will respond within 2 days after complaint is made

March 21, 2001|By Kimberly A. C. Wilson | Kimberly A. C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

Painted hearts. Black-eyed Susans. Hand-made dolls.

Each of them a mayoral gimmick of the past - and all designed to focus attention on the car-jarring problem of Baltimore's potholes.

Now, Mayor Martin O'Malley is pitching his own fast-track strategy to fix the city's pitted streets faster: A guarantee. Potholes filled in 48 hours. "No ifs, ands or bumps about it."

O'Malley announced the new pothole guarantee yesterday in Cherry Hill with Public Works Director George L. Winfield.

"Fixing a pothole isn't complicated," O'Malley said, dressed in an orange Department of Public Works jumpsuit embroidered with his name. "But we need to watch it more. Things that get watched get done. This certainly is a measurable outcome."

To prove his point, the mayor then proceeded to fill four potholes in the 2900 block of Seamon Ave. in just less than 30 minutes.

The mayor's promise to make potholes a priority came on the same day that Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer - a former Baltimore mayor who raised the profile of potholes with a variety of schemes - was quoted as saying O'Malley lacked vision.

O'Malley called the criticism "ironic."

"In an effort to be more responsive, and in response to Mr. Schaefer's remarks that this isn't a visionary administration, we're going to fix this problem," O'Malley said.

"No ifs, ands or bumps! Repairs will be made within 48 hours. Guaranteed," he said.

O'Malley's quick-fix plan took place on the first day of spring, after a mild winter that resulted in fewer potholes than previous winters. Between mid-February and mid-March, 108 city workers filled 13,502 potholes - about 675 a day.

Before the mayoral guarantee, work crews took as long as a week to fill a reported pothole. O'Malley said he hopes his plan to have workers respond within two business days makes driving around the city a smoother experience.

Potholes, the stuff of mayoral memos, can be a particularly contentious issue in Baltimore, where severe winters and sweltering summer conditions can wreak havoc on city streets, as they did in 1996.

That year, city road crews spread 36,000 tons of salt to melt 61.5 inches of snow. The result: 140,000 reasons to drive on the sidewalk.

But colorful political remedies to the pothole problem predate the Blizzard of 1996.

In 1983, then-Mayor Schaefer's pothole solution called for residents to adopt a pothole and contribute $5 toward the cost of having it filled. In return, public works employees repaired the pothole and marked the spot with a painted heart, shamrock or black-eyed Susan.

The campaign raised more than $8,000 from around the city and country and resulted in more than 1,500 filled potholes that year.

A year later, amid the Cabbage Patch doll mania, Schaefer distributed Pothole Patch dolls to larger donors to the patching fund.

Residents can report potholes by calling 410-POTHOLE or notifying DPW on the Internet at pothole@baltimorecity.gov.

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