In what is possibly the most negative television advertisement running in Maryland's race for governor, the Republican Governors Association has funded an ad attacking Martin O'Malley's record as mayor of Baltimore. The 30-second spot blames O'Malley for the city's crime and low graduation rates. The association would not say if the spot is running in both Baltimore and Washington.
What the ad says: "Martin O'Malley's Baltimore," the female narrator chants in a voice somewhere between sultry and a sneer. As fuzzy images of an apparent homicide scene and gravestones fly by, the narrator says O'Malley manages "the most dangerous city in America" and says the city's homicide rate is six times that of New York City. A quote from an editorial in The Washington Post, "ongoing bloodbath," flashes across the screen. O'Malley is shown frowning as the narrator says the city's school system is in "shambles" and that its graduation rate is the second-lowest in the nation. "And now he wants a promotion so he can do for the entire state of Maryland what he did for Baltimore," the narrator concludes.
The facts: The ad suggests Baltimore was a perfect American city before O'Malley arrived. Reasonable people can argue about how much credit O'Malley can claim for recent improvements, but even O'Malley's most ardent detractors would acknowledge the city had serious problems with crime and education before O'Malley was elected.
Baltimore has a crime problem - it is perhaps the mayor's greatest vulnerability - but no authoritative source claims it is "the most dangerous city in America." The advertisement makes reference to a February 2005 story in The New York Times. The story says Baltimore is "in line for the title of deadliest big city in the nation" - a nuanced description. Baltimore was ranked sixth-most-dangerous city in the country and second-most dangerous among the nation's largest cities, according to a report last year by Morgan Quitno Press.
The "ongoing bloodbath" line comes from a Post editorial that is more balanced. Ironically, the editorial says: "Political opponents of Mr. O'Malley can make all the hay they want, but the failures in Baltimore that have contributed to the ghastly murder rampage ... predated his time in office."
In 2005, Baltimore had more than 42.3 murders for every 100,000 residents, compared with New York, which had 6.6 murders. That difference is actually slightly more than sixfold.
A study published by Education Week this summer estimated the city's graduation rate at 38.5 percent, a figure the city has disputed. The study, which uses its own formula to account for dropouts, ranks Baltimore's graduation rate second-worst among the nation's largest school systems, behind Detroit. According to state statistics, the city's graduation rate was 54 percent in 2003, the year analyzed in the study, and improved to 61 percent this year. The dispute highlights a national debate over how to accurately measure graduation rates.
Analysis: Just when everyone thought the gloves were already off, along comes a particularly feisty attack ad. It's not uncommon for campaigns to authorize advertisements funded by an outside source. The more distant relationship gives the campaign, and its backers, more license to be aggressive. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has made many of the same points in his own advertisements; however, he has tended to present them more fairly - arguing that O'Malley has not done enough to fix the city's woes, not that the Democrat would bring all of Baltimore's urban problems to the rest of Maryland.