A sign of the times

Roads: Fixing potholes could smooth O'Malley's recent rough ride.

April 19, 2001|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,SUN STAFF

It's been a rough week for the mayor of Baltimore, and it's only Thursday - big budget shortfall, looming layoffs, a citizenry angered by the prospect of higher taxes for fewer city services. Maybe it was the sound of his honeymoon ending that Martin O'Malley heard during the contentious "Taxpayers Night" at the War Memorial Building.

But, cheer up, your honor. There's good news from the street: The potholes are getting patched faster than you said they would, and in B-town that kind of thing can keep you on the A-list.

Taking a cue from William Donald Schaefer, past-master of high-profile, self-promoting, do-it-now constituent service, O'Malley made a pledge last month to fill any pothole on any city street within 48 hours of a complaint. All the conscientious citizen had to do was call 410-POTHOLE, give the coordinates of the P-thing and a Department of Public Works crew would be dispatched to patch.

O'Malley guaranteed the fast-track - "No ifs, ands or bumps about it" - as Baltimore entered the peak season for potholes. Could he deliver?

We put the mayor's Schaeferiscent (reminiscent of Schaefer) pledge to the test.

We found an attractive target, too - a pothole about two feet long, one foot wide near a slight rise in the 1700 block of Argonne Drive in Northeast Baltimore. It was one of those surprise potholes you might not see until you're right upon it, the kind that goes ba-da-bing and rattles your front end before you've had time to take evasive action.

Morgan State University commuters and officers assigned to the city's Northeastern Police District have probably cursed this one. The pothole can be seen easily from the home field of the Northwood Baseball League

"I know that field well," said the person who answered the city's pothole hot line at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. "I played there in '63, '64, '65. We actually took the city championship there."

The call-taker first identified himself as "Operator 156," then as "Lou," and repeated the mayor's 48-hour pledge. He did not know he was speaking to a Sun reporter when he took the call.

The clock started ticking, and the questions fluttered in the spring air: Could the city bureaucracy respond as quickly as O'Malley had promised it would? Could the young mayor do what the old mayor had done - score political points with an ambitious promise to attack what is, next to rats and trash, one of the city's most notorious and symbolic nuisances?

Early results were impressive.

By 8:30 yesterday morning, our test-case pothole had been patched.

We called "Lou" back and congratulated him on getting the pothole patched twice as fast as the mayor had promised.

"Thank you," he said, giving his full name as Lou Williams and his job title as "lowly worm squirming in the dust."

Self-deprecating and expeditious. We like that.

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