Main question about O'Malley bid: Why?

May 04, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

Baltimoreans should ask themselves: Why make Martin O'Malley, our mayor for the past six years, the governor of Maryland for the next four? Why do you suppose he's running, seeking another job right under our noses, while this one remains, by all measures, unfinished? We need to mark 2006 as the Year of Paying Attention because, before you know it, the primary election will be here and O'Malley will have smiled and winked his way into the general, buoyed by votes from Baltimore - and, if you believe the polls, from women, in particular.

I'm not talking politics. You won't see a quote from a savvy, or even tweedy, political analyst here today.

I am looking at this strictly as a citizen, taxpayer and voter.

I don't know about anyone else around here, but I find myself wondering: Why is this guy running for governor? What is this candidacy about?

More importantly, is his job done here? Did they string up a "Mission Accomplished" banner at City Hall? Is there something at play besides timing and ambition?

The Governor O'Malley Thing came up before. O'Malley took the oath as mayor in December 1999. Less than two years later, he considered running for governor. Around town, that annoyed a lot of people. We had just put the guy in office and, after 12 years of sleepy city government under Kurt L. Schmoke, O'Malley was a huge hit. He brought energy, imagination and determination back to City Hall. That he even considered the gubernatorial prospect, so soon after the '99 election, alerted citizens of Charm-and-Harm City that this was an ambitious lad, his eyes on not only higher office but perhaps the highest office in the land.

Fortunately, O'Mayor did the noble thing and announced that he would not challenge Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for the Democratic nomination, that he would support KKT (and did so half-heartedly), that he would stay in Baltimore and finish the work we had elected him to do.

Four years later, he's done. He's off and running.

Why? When you ask this question around town, you hear things like:

"Because he can."

"Because he knows he can win."

"Because he knows the honeymoon's over in the city and he's going to get eaten alive."

I don't hear anybody say "Because Martin O'Malley has done all he can as mayor of the city of Baltimore," or "Because Martin O'Malley developed great programs and policies, particularly regarding public education, that he needs to bring to state government."

None but the sarcastic proclaim, "Mission accomplished."

And let me correct something: It's wrong to think that the honeymoon is over. It's not, and won't be for a while.

A lot of Baltimoreans are perfectly happy with O'Malley right where he is - or where he was, anyway, before announcing his gubernatorial campaign - with his sleeves rolled up, working on the city's complex problems.

Has he been an effective mayor? Yes. Did he bring a positive energy to the city? Yes. His election in '99 was one of the most important developments of the past 20 years for Baltimore. He got more people to believe that Baltimore could be a better place than the declining, 300-plus-homicides-a-year city we experienced during the 1990s.

But I've got a news flash: The city still has huge problems. Baltimore still needs O'Malley - at least the O'Malley not obsessed with being governor. The job isn't done.

I know: It might never be done. But the city would stay on a positive arc if O'Malley stayed around longer. I mean, who's ready to replace the guy?

I know: Oprah left town after only a few years at WJZ-TV and went on to fame and riches.

But that's entertainment.

This is real stuff, where leadership and government action actually affect lives.

Fixing the city is a long-haul project, and while you might think six years is a long time, it's nothing at all in the life of a city that lost thousands of manufacturing jobs and large chunks of middle-class population over the past 50 years, a city that has been infested with drug addiction and all its collateral damage for the past 30.

There's been progress, but, please, it's hardly time to declare victory and sail off to Annapolis.

Yesterday, I saw Schmoke again. He appeared in West Baltimore as Doug Duncan, the Montgomery County executive for the past 12 years, announced that Baltimore native Stuart Simms, former city prosecutor and state public safety commissioner, would be his running mate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary against O'Malley.

Nice man, Schmoke. Honest. Great smile. A lot of positive energy. But he always reminds me of that long, dreary period in Baltimore - even more homicides each year than we have now, steady population decline, a kind of sad surrender to the loss of downtown businesses and once-thriving neighborhoods.

People sometimes forget that, as bad as things are here these days, they were worse by many measures a decade ago.

Selecting Simms, a man who offers "serious, sober, focused, visionary leadership," was an interesting move by Duncan. It was his way of sticking a flag in the ground, on O'Malley's turf, and telling Baltimoreans that he'll do our bidding in Annapolis, and maybe we shouldn't be in such a hurry to send the mayor there. That's what I get from it. That's what I'm thinking about. My fellow Baltimoreans should do the same.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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