Mayor focuses on record

Campaign ad watch

August 24, 2006|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN REPORTER

After months of airing commercials that have defined what he would do for Maryland as governor, Democrat Martin O'Malley launched a new television spot this week promoting what he has done for Baltimore as mayor.

The commercial, airing in the Baltimore media market, focuses on progress O'Malley says the city has made since he became mayor in December 1999.

What the ad says: The narrator starts off with proclamations about progress in Baltimore: "People are moving back to a city that's creating thousands of jobs, reducing violent crime and improving their schools and test scores."

The commercial then accurately highlights several accolades bestowed on O'Malley and Baltimore: a Time magazine article naming him one of America's five best mayors, a Harvard University award to O'Malley's Citi Stat management system and a Wall Street Journal article praising the city's "housing boom."

The 30-second spot ends by conceding that there is more to do in Baltimore, but says O'Malley would bring a "record of innovation and progress" to Annapolis.

The facts: Population flight from Baltimore has slowed significantly. Census figures do not show the city gaining residents, though the commercial does not make that claim.

Most recent U.S. Census data show that Baltimore's population declined from 641,943 on July 1, 2004, to 635,815 on July 1 last year. Both are down from 651,154 in 2000. City officials typically appeal census findings and have in the past persuaded the agency to upwardly revise its estimates.

State and federal data present a confusing picture of the city's job market.

Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation figures show that more than 10,000 jobs have been created in Baltimore over the past three years. But U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that the city lost jobs between 2000 and last month.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s response to the commercial posted on his campaign Web site simply states that "Baltimore has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state."

Violent crime in Baltimore has been reduced under O'Malley. The mayor frequently claims a nearly 40 percent decline between 1999 and 2004. But that number has been in dispute because of an audit performed in 2000 that increased the violent crime rate in 1999, the benchmark against which O'Malley measures progress. Compared with pre-audited figures in 1999, the decline is closer to 24 percent.

As for test scores at city schools, Baltimore's public education system has posted improvements - significantly in some schools. But the system remains the state's worst-performing.

Analysis: The ad attempts to counter Ehrlich's attacks on O'Malley, which have focused mainly on the mayor's leadership of city schools. "While the governor is attacking progress, this is an opportunity for us to celebrate progress," O'Malley spokesman Hari Sevugan said.

Some political observers suggest that the mayor should have started to define his record in Baltimore before Ehrlich made city schools the focus of intense debate.

Arthur W. Murphy, a partner at Democracy Group, an Annapolis-based political consulting firm, said there is plenty of time for both candidates to sell their platforms, but that most people know which candidate they prefer.

"Basically they both have done some excellent [ads]," Murphy said. "The next phase will be issues. And the final phase will be hand-to-hand combat."

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