O'Malley leads off Democratic response to Bush's Midwest campaign

President is on bus tour

mayor criticizes handling of homeland security

May 04, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

As President Bush began a "Yes, America Can" bus tour of the Midwest yesterday promoting his re-election campaign, Mayor Martin O'Malley ripped into the administration's record on homeland defense.

"Homeland security is not a priority for this administration, and it clearly takes a back seat to preserving trillion-dollar tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans," O'Malley told reporters for several national news organizations during a conference call from City Hall.

The Democratic National Committee selected O'Malley as one of five local officials - along with Toledo Mayor Jack Ford and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken - to hold news conferences yesterday as part of its "Mission Not Accomplished" publicity effort, said Tony Welch, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee.

"We are making sure that he [Bush] gets a reality check wherever he goes. He goes to Michigan, we'll be pointing to the hundreds of thousands of jobs lost there," Welch said. "He goes to Ohio, we'll point out the hundreds of thousands of jobs lost there."

Bush and his wife, Laura, were in a convoy yesterday of about eight buses - red, white and blue - driving across southern Michigan emblazoned with the words, "Yes, America Can."

Bush began his day at a town hall session in Niles in southwest Michigan, then cut north to Kalamazoo for a speech before heading east to the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights for a rally.

Heather Layman, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said O'Malley's claims were wrong.

"Homeland defense is one of the most important issues that we're facing right now, and Americans have seen President Bush's leadership in creating the Department of Homeland Defense and the Patriot Act," Layman said.

During his 15-minute call with reporters, O'Malley said that Baltimore spent at least $20 million on homeland defense since Sept. 11, 2001, paying for extra police protection around public buildings, beefing up port security and coordinating disaster plans, among other efforts.

But O'Malley complained that the city has received little more than $8 million from the federal government as reimbursement for these expenses.

And the city's ability to defend itself has been hamstrung by bureaucratic inefficiency, with federal officials routing money through state governments instead of sending it directly to cities, O'Malley said.

"Sadly, the money that we expected to come to American cities has been tied up through the bureaucratic process of sending it to state capitals," O'Malley said. "We may have the safest state capitals in the world, but our cities are largely undefended."

Baltimore's port remains vulnerable to attack, in part because the federal government hasn't provided the money to inspect cargo containers as they arrive, O'Malley said.

"Some would say that we are doing 100 percent better than before Sept. 11 [2001] because we are inspecting 7 percent of the cargo going through our ports. That's twice as much as the 3 percent that was checked before," O'Malley said. "But that still leaves 93 percent uninspected."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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