D'Adamo steps up as O'Malley's chief critic

Former close relationship ends as councilman goes on attack against mayor

March 30, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. has often described Mayor Martin O'Malley as "the brother I never had."

"I love him like a brother," D'Adamo said recently. "But brothers do fight."

For weeks, D'Adamo has been picking fights with O'Malley by delivering a barrage of wide-ranging potshots in Baltimore's most public of political rings-the City Council's televised sessions. D'Adamo has been portraying himself as the council's top political pugilist and the city's sole elected official brave enough to take on the mayor.

"I rise in anger, very upset, at our mayor," D'Adamo recently shouted into his microphone at a council meeting. "This administration will not tell the truth."

On a council that mostly exhibits polite, if any, public criticism of O'Malley, D'Adamo's tirades have become an oddity that has council members debating his motives.

Many say D'Adamo, 45, has always spoken his mind since he joined the council in 1987. Other council members attribute D'Adamo's vitriol to the 14 new council districts that O'Malley drafted in January and the council approved last week.

D'Adamo has said the mayor's redistricting map, which he voted against, jeopardizes his re-election hopes by placing him in one of the three new districts where two incumbents must campaign against one another.

Still, the rift in the relationship has baffled council members who assumed D'Adamo and O'Malley were friends. They served on the council together from 1991 until 1999's mayoral race, and they attended the same health club. Several council members have even compared D'Adamo's attacks to the way O'Malley, as a councilman in the 1990s, used to level criticism at former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

What most council members point to as proof of their cozy relationship is a popular rumor that D'Adamo routinely delivers cookies or doughnuts to the mayor's house.

It's no rumor.

"I used to take doughnuts to his house every Sunday since he became mayor," D'Adamo said. "Did Martin eat them? Probably not. But his kids did. One of his children said, `Daddy, would you give that guy a job so he doesn't have to bring doughnuts here any more.'"

D'Adamo said he halted the deliveries last month because he believes his job is to be O'Malley's lone critic.

O'Malley said he understands D'Adamo's anger with redistricting, but that the new map offered him little choice because D'Adamo lives so close to Councilwoman Lois A. Garey.

"I met with 18 council members, and he's the only one who walked out thinking he had a commitment for set borders," O'Malley said. "I did not target anyone."

The tension between O'Malley and D'Adamo spilled over at a council luncheon last month when D'Adamo protested the hiring of a new press secretary. O'Malley snapped at D'Adamo, who then stormed out to berate the mayor's staff for hiring more public relations staff while cutting the budgets of city departments. O'Malley has even jokingly said he would support Garey in next year's election.

"I don't know what's bothering him," O'Malley said. But, he added, "it bothers me on a personal level because it is an assault on my word, my integrity and my honor."

O'Malley attempted to mend the rift by sending a letter to D'Adamo this month in which the mayor requested a meeting to hash out their differences, most of which revolve around what D'Adamo says is the mayor's insensitive style.

The decisions D'Adamo takes issue with include:

Advertising the position of director of the Bureau of Water and Waste Water while the acting director was recovering from heart surgery;

Hiring an outsider, Kevin P. Clark of New York City, as Baltimore police commissioner, instead of Deputy Police Commissioner John McEntee, a Baltimore police veteran;

Reducing health care benefits for the city's retired employees.

"The way things are done are sneaky, and they're wrong," D'Adamo shouted at the Feb. 24 meeting. "People feel the same, but they won't get up to say it."

He said the mayor "hides people he wants to hide" and "helps people with the ivory look."

The people the mayor doesn't like "don't fit the ivory look with the three-piece suits and the Martin O'Malley look," D'Adamo said at the council meeting. "All he cares about is I, I, I."

Several council members have accused D'Adamo of grandstanding to curry favor with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. As the lone Democrat on the council to back Republican Ehrlich, D'Adamo has been expecting a job offer in the new administration.

But D'Adamo said he criticized O'Malley long before Ehrlich's election. One of his most repreated criticisms dates back to an August 2000 decision to replace Thomas V. Overton as director of the Department of Recreation and Parks.

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