Mundane concerns

Baltimore: City's longstanding problems should not be neglected amid fears about terrorism strikes.

October 19, 2001

MAYOR MARTIN O'Malley went to Washington on Wednesday to discuss terrorism with federal officials. Yesterday, he was scheduled to address other mayors in Boston on emergency preparedness.

To his credit, he canceled the trip, deciding he was needed more in Baltimore.

Since Sept. 11, the mayor's main focus has been on terrorism. He quickly -- and prudently -- summoned the chief executives of local hospitals, directing them to update emergency plans for handling smallpox and anthrax attacks. He hosted nationwide teleconferences on how cities can defend themselves against bioterrorism.

Mayor O'Malley and Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris even publicly criticized the FBI before Congress for its failure to rely more on local law enforcement agencies in pursuing terrorists. This week, they celebrated as FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III promised to increase the role of nonfederal law enforcement agencies in the war on terrorism.

As an elected official, Mayor O'Malley would be derelict if he did not make sure that Baltimore is ready to cope with a disastrous terrorist incident. That's his job.

But the more he has sought the national limelight, the more critics have worried that he is, in fact, calling attention to Baltimore as a possible target.

Mr. O'Malley's defenders say he assumed a high national profile on terrorism-related issues because cities were ill-prepared and even the U.S. Conference of Mayors offered little advice on what to do.

This is reasonable. As terrorism becomes part of our daily lives, though, the mayor needs to return to the mundane issues that he promised to tackle during his 1999 campaign: deteriorating housing and a problematic Public Works Department, crime and grime, the city's financial woes and redevelopment.

Mr. O'Malley was elected to solve these Baltimore problems, not to devise strategies to chase terrorists around the nation. The sooner he realizes this, the better he will serve taxpayers.

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