O'Malley's `State' speech omits state's biggest city

February 01, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

Martin O'Malley mentioned Baltimore one time in his sleepy little State of the State speech yesterday in Annapolis. Geezy-peezy. For a guy who thinks the state of Maryland is strong (the second-wealthiest state in the nation) but "not as strong as we should be," he might have mentioned one of the main reasons why -- the city he just served as mayor for seven years.

OK, six.

He really spent the last year campaigning for governor, with his adopted hometown clearly in the rearview mirror for much of that time.

But, anyway, you get my point. Baltimore has the highest concentration of the state's poor, most of its violent crime, most of its drug addiction, an unemployment rate that generally runs twice the state average any given month, too many schools that fail, too many of its children sent into the juvenile justice system, and too many of its adults returning home from prison and committing more crimes.

This is the most mixed-up city on the East Coast, with all kinds of cool and quirky and wonderful qualities -- not to mention a five-year outlook for another 17,000 new jobs, 7,400 new housing units and yuppies galore walking their dogs on Eutaw Street -- but with social conditions that keep it from becoming great. They affect the whole state in some way.

When he was mayor, O'Malley brought energy and smart ideas to the city's nationally recognized crime problem. The citizens gladly elected him here twice because of that.

He had a good run, and he moved on.

He left Baltimore better than he found it, but everyone reading this, anyone who's been around for a while, paying attention and paying taxes, knows the reality: Baltimore's problems persist. They are costly not only to Baltimoreans, but to the rest of us. We're the ones, from Oakland to Ocean City, who keep paying bills for long-neglected problems.

My favorite example of this is recidivism -- the number of men and women who emerge from our prisons and behave so badly that, within three years, they are back inside. The upkeep costs taxpayers $24,000 per person per year, and we abide a recidivism rate of 51 percent. That failure costs us lots of money that could be better spent on, say, higher education, or -- imagine this -- not spent at all.

More than half of all inmates released from the state prison system each year return to Baltimore ZIP codes. But it's not just a city problem; every Maryland taxpayer foots the bill for the incarceration of thousands of inmates who fail at re-entry.

O'Malley didn't mention this yesterday.

In fact, his only mention of Baltimore came when he said the words "port of Baltimore." And he said "port of Baltimore" in the context of --what else? -- homeland security. That's O'Malley's favorite someday-I-might-run-for-president/I-need -to-be-known-for-something-besides-the-Celtic-rock-band thing.

Here's the quote:

"In order to make Maryland a leader in improving homeland security, we will constitute a new Maryland Security Council to bring all relevant agencies and departments into the prevention, preparedness and recovery regimen on a quarterly basis."

Who is writing this stuff?

"And we will quickly secure a professional and expert assessment of Maryland's true level of homeland security and emergency preparedness, so we can begin to produce the security deliverables that our peoples' safety demands."

Deliverables?

"We will pursue the cooperation of our neighbors in the District of Columbia and Virginia -- and our respective congressional delegations -- to secure an expanded federal definition of the National Capital Region for homeland security purposes; and I have directed our transportation secretary to formulate a plan of action that will lead to the port of Baltimore becoming the best-inspected and most secure port in the United States."

That's 144 words on homeland security.

Drug addiction got 25.

Gangs and criminal violence got 29.

Thornton funding for public education statewide got a mention, but public schools in Baltimore didn't.

Recidivism got nada from O'Malley, except for a vague reference to the need for reform.

He's not mayor of Baltimore anymore. Understood. But a lot of Maryland's remaining problems, constituting some of the great unfinished business in this prosperous state, stem from conditions in its largest city. I didn't expect O'Malley to flash a lot of B-town bias in his state of the state, but I think a sentence here or there wouldn't have hurt, given the reality of life here.

And this whole thing about homeland security -- anybody else think O'Malley has played this song too many times already?

He's been talking about it since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, every chance he gets. It was odd to hear this while O'Malley was mayor, while the shootings continued, while a dozen city schools performed so badly that the state threatened to take control of them.

Homeland security is certainly an important issue in this time of global terrorism. But do we need a Maryland Security Council? And isn't it a bit obvious that O'Malley plays this tune to lock up some credibility on a national issue should one day the stars align for higher office?

I'd rather be known as the governor who brought "all relevant agencies and departments" together to make the worst streets in the worst neighborhoods in my state safer, the governor who broke the cycle of crime and incarceration for thousands of offenders through a series of aggressive new corrections policies, the governor who established treatment-upon-demand for any addicts who remained a burden to their community. (And the $5 million O'Malley offered yesterday hardly gets us there.)

That's how you make the homeland more secure.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Hear Dan Rodricks from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays on "The Buzz" on WBAL Radio (1090 AM).

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