Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's campaign lashed out yesterday at his political rivals by labeling recent criticism by Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as "desperate and reckless."
In an e-mail sent to thousands of supporters, O'Malley campaign manager Jonathan Epstein wrote that Duncan, a Democrat, and Ehrlich, a Republican, have aligned themselves to derail the mayor's bid for governor by jointly disparaging the city's progress.
"While Doug Duncan aligns himself with Bob Ehrlich - and the Republican Party's Karl Rove-style attack politics - Martin O'Malley continues to work with the people of Baltimore to advance the city's nation-leading progress," the e-mail states, referring to Rove, a top aide to President Bush. "They're desperate. They know it's the only way they can win."
Later, the e-mail states: "Duncan and Ehrlich may be working together. But the truth is on our side."
Duncan and Ehrlich representatives responded yesterday by saying O'Malley, who leads both in most polls, is trying to avoid the subject of crime reporting.
"The only one sounding desperate here is O'Malley, who wants to do everything he can to avoid an independent audit of his books," said Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the Maryland GOP.
Duncan's campaign manager, Scott Arceneaux, called Epstein's e-mail "petulant" and "childish."
The e-mail was aimed at arming them with statistics demonstrating Baltimore's renaissance. It said the campaign would continue to "run a positive, issues-based campaign" despite the "unfounded," "negative" and "shameful" attacks by Duncan and Ehrlich.
The e-mail detailed $7 billion of new development in city neighborhoods, increasing home values, the virtual halt to population loss, rising public school test scores and a nation-leading 37.4 percent violent crime reduction between 1999 and 2004.
It is the O'Malley's campaign's last assertion that has become the focal point of intense criticism over the past week, after a Sun story that reported skepticism by legal experts. It quoted criminologists, including a former FBI consultant for the city, who say it is unfair to claim such a high rate of reduction because 1999's data underwent a comprehensive audit. The 2004 data did not.
The reduction is 23.5 percent when 2004 is compared with unaudited data from 1999. O'Malley has said the 1999 audit created a new process that has been followed ever since and guarantees nearly perfect reporting accuracy through continual reviews. He has said another full-year audit is not needed.
Duncan seized on crime experts' concerns and on subsequent reports by WBAL-TV this week detailing a handful of lapses in crime reports to charge that O'Malley has "cooked the books." He is calling for an audit to verify O'Malley's claims.
Meanwhile, Ehrlich authorized his Office of Crime Control and Prevention to perform an audit of crime statistics in Baltimore and four other jurisdictions. The results are due in August, a month before the Democratic primary.
O'Malley said calls for audits were obviously political. He said he would not authorize an independent audit because he, too, would be accused of political motives. He said that he stood by his statistics and that other positive indicators proved the city's progress.
"The people of Baltimore have shown the courage to tackle tough problems and show extra progress, and [Duncan] and [Ehrlich] completely fail to see that," Epstein said in an interview.
The e-mail said that O'Malley has not met his goal to reduce homicides to 175 by 2002. But it said O'Malley has engineered remarkable progress. The city's average annual number of homicides in the 1990s was 320. During his administration, it fell to 264.
The e-mail also asserts Baltimore has far outpaced the state in crime reduction. When Baltimore is subtracted from state data, crime in Maryland since 1999 is up 37.6 percent. The campaign's calculation, however, uses the city's audited 1999 data and is based on statistics from the FBI, which does not record Baltimore crime statistics for 1999.
O'Malley's opponents say he is refusing to heed the same type of skepticism on crime data that the mayor, as a city councilman in the 1990s, leveled at former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
"This particular O'Malley squall is the latest sign of a candidate who regards himself as being above any questions about his record and simply attacks anyone who dares to try to have a real debate," Arceneaux said.