Mayor responds to `attacks'

Campaign Ad Watch

October 04, 2006|By Doug Donovan and Greg Garland | Doug Donovan and Greg Garland,sun reporters

Mayor Martin O'Malley's campaign for governor began airing a television commercial last night that defends his crime-fighting record and accuses Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of failing to keep violent felons behind bars.

What the ad says: O'Malley's 30-second spot, set to melodramatic music, directly responds to accusations in recent Ehrlich commercials that the Democratic mayor has manipulated crime statistics "to make the city look safer."

"A desperate Bob Ehrlich has turned to misleading attacks on a city that's dramatically reduced violent crime and murders," the male narrator states. An on-screen source line says the claim is supported by FBI crime reports.

The narrator goes on to say Ehrlich also attacks "a police department whose monthly crime statistics are validated by Ehrlich's own state police and published by the FBI. It's Bob Ehrlich's promises we should question."

The source: a letter from state police Superintendent Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins.

The narrator goes on to say that the Republican governor in his 2002 "101 Outstanding Ideas for Maryland" document pledged to end parole for violent criminals when he took office in 2002.

"Ehrlich broke that promise and allowed the release of prisoners who've committed violent crimes and murders again," the narrator says. "Can we trust anything Bob Ehrlich says?"

The facts: Violent crime and murders in Baltimore have been reduced since O'Malley took office in December 1999. But the mayor has faced scrutiny for overstating the progress. He has claimed that between 1999 and 2004 violent crime - homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault - are down by a nation-leading "nearly 40 percent."

But that decline factors in a spike in 1999 violent crime data that was the result of an audit ordered by O'Malley in 2000. The review found that his predecessor was misclassifying those violent crimes as lesser offenses. If the 2004 figures are compared to the pre-audited 1999 figures, the decline is closer to 23.5 percent.

While the FBI does keep the city's records, it does not keep statistics for 1999 because of the audit conducted by the city in 2000.

The state police superintendent did write this year that city police statistics are "carefully validated, and every effort is made to authenticate the accuracy and completeness of the reported data."

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said that was a "poor choice of words." In fact, the state police simply verify the data for its clerical accuracy - whether the numbers add up and are categorized according to FBI standards.

The commercial never specifically mentions any violent criminals who went on to commit crimes after being paroled, but the O'Malley campaign provided information about several parolees who committed murders. Most of the parolees named by O'Malley's campaign were released on mandatory, nondiscretionary parole and did not have their sentences shortened by Ehrlich-appointed parole commissioners.

Still, O'Malley officials said, these repeat violent offenders were not properly supervised. They said the Ehrlich administration only introduced legislation to end parole for a narrow classification of criminals, not all violent offenders.

Ehrlich officials point to that legislation as proof of Ehrlich's efforts. In 2003 state lawmakers killed a top initiative of Ehrlich's - a mandatory sentencing program for gun-related crimes, called Project Exile. And in the 2006 special session, state lawmakers approved Ehrlich's "Jessica's Law," but stripped it of mandatory minimums with no parole for violent sex offenders.

Analysis: Ehrlich has been delivering a steady stream of attacks on crime in Baltimore. In this ad the mayor strikes back harder than he has to date by highlighting the governor's crime-fighting role. The mayor has frequently said that the city's efforts would have been greatly helped if the state was better about keeping violent felons behind bars.

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