Measures of progress

February 01, 2006

In describing the state of the city in his annual address Monday, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley stuck to the facts as he knows them to be: A struggling city is turning around. In assessing Baltimore's evolution, Mr. O'Malley, speaking in a steady, measured tone, focused on collective progress rather than personal achievement.

Not surprisingly, given his aspiration to be governor, the mayor emphasized the progress the city has made, though he also stressed "important work to be done." A steady drop in violent crimes, an increased high school graduation rate, improved reading proficiency among elementary students, a robust housing market, a stronger fiscal picture, declines in teen pregnancy rates and juvenile murders - those were his measures of progress.

But in too many examples, Mr. O'Malley compared the city of today with the Baltimore of 10, 20 or 30 years ago. A more valuable assessment of his stewardship could be made based on his tenure in the job; those are the year-over-year figures we'd like to see.

And we would certainly agree that there is still plenty of work to be done:

While the actual number of murders has declined, the per capita rate is nearly the same as it was in the 1990s, when more than 300 people a year were killed in the city, because fewer people live here now.

Although a new drug treatment facility has opened in Baltimore, there remains a significant gap in the available treatment and the demand for it.

While 3,000 vacant houses acquired by the city are slated for redevelopment, 3,000 others remain empty.

The value of city contracts awarded to minority-owned contractors has nearly doubled, from $45 million to $94 million in five years, and their participation in city work also has doubled. But the contractors still qualify for only about 31 percent of eligible city work.

The more the city improves, the more it can capitalize on its progress so far. The decisions by the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins Health Systems to expand their campuses illustrate the importance of a collective investment in the city. And they underscore why Mr. O'Malley can't let up on his pledge to deliver a safer city.

The mayor's leadership will come under increasing scrutiny in the months ahead - and rightly so, because that he is how he should be judged.

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