Mayor charges smear tactics

O'Malley defends city crime data as council votes to back outside audit

February 28, 2006|By DOUG DONOVAN | DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTER

Mayor Martin O'Malley dismissed yesterday recent criticism of his crime-fighting record as part of a political smear campaign, comparing it to attacks leveled at Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election.

O'Malley, a Democratic contender for governor, offered his most fervent public defense of his success against violent crime during a discussion of City Council resolutions calling for independent audits to confirm Baltimore's crime statistics.

The council approved a resolution last night that would attempt to create a task force of academic experts to audit crime statistics. Most council members said they were certain that such a review - whose details and costs were unclear - would erase doubts raised by O'Malley's critics.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section about an audit of Baltimore's crime statistics mischaracterized action by the City Council. The council approved the introduction of a resolution - not the resolution itself - seeking to create a task force to audit crime data. The resolution must now be reviewed by the council's public safety subcommittee.
The Sun regrets the error.

The issue of whether the mayor has accurately portrayed the city's violent crime reduction during his tenure has become a political touchstone that his opponents in the race for governor - Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democratic Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan - have used to try to cast doubts on the mayor's credibility.

"Every day that they get us to talk about how we go about proving independently that we haven't been doing something bad ... is one less day that Bob Ehrlich has to defend the fact that crime in Maryland as a whole, outside of our [city] borders, has been going up because of his miserable, pathetic management of juvenile services, which he promised to fix, and a parole and probation department that is still operating off of loose-leaf binders and notebooks," O'Malley told the council.

"This is like attacking John Kerry's rationale for his Purple Hearts in order not to have to talk about draft dodging and not going to war when you were called up," the mayor added, referring to claims that Republicans attacked Kerry's service in Vietnam to avoid debate about President Bush's military service.

The Sun reported this month that the mayor's claims of a "nearly 40 percent" reduction in violent crime between 1999 and 2004 might be inflated because data from six years ago underwent a major upward revision after an audit. The city has not applied the same comprehensive audit techniques to any one year since, including 2004 statistics. If the 2004 numbers are compared with pre-audited 1999 statistics, violent crime in Baltimore is down 23.5 percent.

O'Malley frequently says the "nearly 40 percent" drop leads the nation's 25 biggest cities. But the 23.5 percent decline would rank the city sixth on that list.

"So [Ehrlich] wants to have this debate - `Oh, did it go down by nation-leading or were you first or third or sixth' - because he doesn't want people to see that crime is going up ... outside the city in the state of Maryland," O'Malley said.

Duncan officials have used the issue to claim that O'Malley exaggerates his accomplishments. Last summer, they point out, the mayor characterized the violent crime reduction as a "50 percent" drop in a speech - a claim O'Malley officials say was accurate on a year-to-date basis.

O'Malley said calls for audits of the city's crime statistics were a blatant political move - a position that most on the Democratic council appeared to support last night even while backing Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr.'s call for an audit by area university experts.

Councilman James B. Kraft was set to introduce his own resolution last night supporting an idea backed last week by O'Malley and his police commissioner: a statewide audit conducted by a politically independent entity that no one has specified. Kraft withdrew it for procedural reasons but said asking O'Malley to prove his statistics accurate is equivalent to asking, "When did you stop beating your wife?"

"This is nothing more than a political ploy on behalf of the governor," Kraft said.

Still, even O'Malley's most ardent supporters agreed that an audit would help prove the mayor's claims.

"We are all in favor of making sure the numbers are accurate," said council Vice President Stephanie Rawlings Blake.

The council's debate comes at a time when Ehrlich's Office of Crime Control and Prevention has commissioned an audit of crime statistics reported to the FBI by Baltimore and four large counties. The results are due in August, a month before the Democratic primary election between Duncan and O'Malley.

Duncan spokeswoman Jody Couser said in an e-mail statement that she doubted whether the mayor truly supports an audit. "[He] seems more interested in smearing the messengers than actually getting to the bottom of the crime problems in Baltimore," Couser wrote.

Del. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, has also introduced legislation - which Duncan supports - asking that that the governor's audit be expanded statewide.

O'Malley's office said yesterday that the state could not be considered politically independent since Ehrlich controls the auditing agency.

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