Baltimore bashing

September 29, 2005

BALTIMOREANS ARE a prideful lot. They love their city and have a tendency to brag about its unique culture, artistic venues, economic rebirth, close-knit neighborhoods, ethnic ties and yes, even its eccentricity and general funkiness. They don't call it Charm City for nothing. But with Mayor Martin O'Malley's official entry into Maryland's gubernatorial race yesterday, the long knives are out. The Baltimore-bashing season is now open. Politicians from Arbutus to Rockville are only too happy to make sweeping and ill-informed condemnations of a city that deserves better. In fact, they've already started.

Make no mistake, Baltimore is no thin-skinned wilting flower. We like a good political fight. Mr. O'Malley's record deserves to be scrutinized, the good and the bad. Every candidate's record does. And most people are aware of the city's struggle with poverty, crime and education. These long-standing problems don't require exaggeration. And it's fair to question Mr. O'Malley's effectiveness in any number of areas, including all of the above. We certainly have from time to time.

But we can't help but notice that Mr. O'Malley's presumed opponents are already unloading on Baltimore like it was a modern-day Gomorrah threatening to spread its depravity from Friendsville to Pocomoke City.

Just this week, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan issued a flier questioning how Mr. O'Malley could dare spend his free hours playing in a rock band while people were being murdered in his "crime-plagued" city. Apparently, in Mr. Duncan's view, the solution is not to get witnesses to sing but to get the mayor to stop. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s sudden disdain for the efforts of city schoolteachers seems just about as heartfelt.

How times have changed. William Donald Schaefer's ties to Baltimore were a point of honor when he ran for governor. Remember the Baltimore's Best campaign? Violent crime was just as bad then -- worse, in many ways -- and so were the schools. Over the past two decades, Inner Harbor redevelopment and the Baltimore renaissance have only expanded. But the difference between then and now is that Baltimore doesn't have the votes, the political clout or, sadly, the respect it once enjoyed. Suburbanites are wary of the big city, and some politicians are willing to take advantage of those fears. We'd like to think race isn't part of that equation, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

Baltimore's reputation still has value. The last thing the city needs is 12 to 14 months of undeserved, unfair and uninterrupted attacks. What voters need to hear are thoughtful and constructive ideas about how the next governor might make Baltimore a better place. Frankly, we haven't heard from any candidate on that score. One wonders if we ever will.

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