Mayor facing test in capital

O'Malley must forge relationships, work with key lawmakers

December 18, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley has dealt with plenty of problems as mayor of Baltimore, but there was one place he could always turn to for support: the City Council.

He used the tremendous powers that Maryland gives its local executives, a strong relationship with a council president and his insider knowledge as a former councilman to amass a nearly perfect record in pushing his agenda.

But as he leaves the city and its 15-person council behind after seven years, O'Malley could be in for a rude awakening if history is any guide.

Awaiting him in Annapolis is a 188-member General Assembly headed by savvy and independent thinkers who spent the past four years chewing apart the agenda of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The success of the early days of the O'Malley administration will in large part be determined by his ability to forge consensus with legislative leaders who don't like to be taken for granted.

"I had a good relationship with the City Council," said Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who, before O'Malley, was the most recent Baltimore mayor to become governor. "If I had a difference of opinion with them, we would work it out. When I came down here, you had an entirely new ballgame."

O'Malley will be the third local chief executive to become governor in 20 years; in the two previous cases, the transition wasn't pretty.

Schaefer, used to ruling Baltimore as mayor, saw his proposals torn to shreds in his first year in the State House. His successor, Parris N. Glendening, after having his way with the Prince George's County Council, barely got some of his key appointments through in his first session as governor.

Many in Annapolis say O'Malley could get kinder treatment simply because the leaders in the General Assembly will be glad to see a fellow Democrat replace the Republican Ehrlich. But others suspect it might be hard for the Assembly to change its ways.

Even those who say they want and expect O'Malley to succeed in Annapolis say the new governor has a lot to learn.

"He needs to start off by making relatively modest requests until he gets his sea legs," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a strong O'Malley supporter in the election. "He's got to know the territory. He's got to understand where the legislature has been on certain issues and where they're likely to be in the future, and that's going to take a little while."

Aides say O'Malley is working to ensure a smooth start. His chief of staff, Michael R. Enright, and others have been making the rounds in Annapolis, and the governor-elect plans a retreat with legislative leaders this afternoon.

O'Malley made compromise and cooperation a central theme of his campaign, and Lt. Gov.-elect Anthony G. Brown - a member of the leadership in the House of Delegates before the November election - said he is working to follow through.

"Communication is really the name of the game," Brown said. "It's about compromise. The governor-elect understands very well that it's not about sending to the legislature a concrete proposal and expecting it to come back in identical form. It's about putting proposals on the table and then engaging in a very active, bilateral exchange of ideas and information and interests so we can find common ground."

City Council members say O'Malley proved his ability to work with a legislative body during his time as mayor, but note that he had advantages that won't exist in Annapolis.

O'Malley had been a member of the council, they said, and after years of a testy relationship between the city's legislative branch and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the new mayor fostered a more cooperative relationship.

"He came out of the council, and he knows our habits. He knows our likes and dislikes because he was one of us," said Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. "He was familiar with all our personalities. He knew what made us tick. He knew what made us angry, and he knew what made us happy."

Council members say O'Malley benefited from a strong relationship with City Council President Sheila Dixon. The two ran on a ticket in the last city election called the Partners for Progress slate. Moreover, Dixon had a personal stake in his success - when O'Malley becomes governor, she automatically becomes mayor, giving her the advantage of incumbency before next year's city election.

O'Malley has gotten his way on taxes, layoffs, development projects and other issues. He had trouble pushing through his plan for a city-owned convention center hotel, but after agreeing to spend money for affordable housing, he got that, too.

"That was probably as close as he got" to real difficulty, said Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., who endorsed Ehrlich but praises O'Malley's intelligence and teamwork. "He batted a thousand ten, if you want to know the truth."

But when O'Malley gets to Annapolis, he will have to build all new relationships, and while his party is in control of the Assembly, its leaders say that he'll get no freebies.

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