City residents take O'Malley's decision to stay personally
Some suggest an image of stability, investment projects were at stake
By Jeff Barker
June 6, 2002
For Baltimoreans who have placed their faith in Mayor Martin O'Malley,
his decision to complete his term ends an uneasy period during which they
fretted that he might not be around to
finish what he grandly started.
From developers to small-business owners to church and neighborhood
leaders, those with a stake in the city said yesterday that they had invested
their hopes - and in some cases time
or money - in the young mayor and that they hadn't gotten a sufficient return on their investment.
"Before you can run for something else, you have to finish what you
started," said Mattie Owens, owner of Gospel Corner at The Avenue Market,
a place where merchants say drugs and
crime continue to dampen business.
The notion of unfinished business was expressed in other parts of town.
"He's a young fresh face and he made a commitment to Baltimore and he hasn't accomplished enough yet," said Mary Sloan Roby, president of Friends of Patterson Park.
Around the city, there was a sense that people were taking O'Malley's
announcement - that he was forgoing the governor's race - personally. It
was as if they were in an exciting
relationship and were nearly jilted, but then got a last-minute reprieve.
"He excited us. He elevated our level of hope," said Clayton Guyton, director of the Rose Street Community Center.
Now, Guyton said, the 39-year-old O'Malley "has unfinished business with struggling neighborhoods" such as the Rose Street Community.
"We would like to see houses rehabilitated, more home ownership, more green spaces," Guyton said.
At 2 1/2 years, O'Malley has been in office long enough to demonstrate his charisma, said Herbert C. Smith, chairman of the Political Science Department at Western Maryland College.
But governing successfully isn't just about charisma, it's about persistence, Smith said.
"Personal charisma can come and go and become yesterday's news," Smith
said. "Look at [former mayor and governor] William Donald Schaefer. He
didn't have personal charisma, but he
had performance charisma, which comes from persistence and tenacity and success."
O'Malley has an opportunity to blend his charm with a sustained commitment
to the people of Baltimore, Smith said. "When a public official demonstrates
they are more than just rhetoric,
they get credit," he said.
Among those who were most anxious about the mayor's prolonged indecision were members of the business community working with the city on ambitious development projects.
As O'Malley deliberated his future, Joseph Haskins Jr., a banker who
will head the board of an East Baltimore development group, worried that
the mayor's departure could hurt plans to
transform the disintegrated area around the Johns Hopkins medical complex.
The ambitious redevelopment agenda has been spearheaded by O'Malley.
His absence might have deprived the city of a knowledgeable, eloquent spokesman
to make the case for
needed funding in Annapolis and Washington.
"I, at times, felt uncomfortable that he might not be here," Haskins
said. "Taking on such a task when everything is right is still a monumental
undertaking. And then to have it
complicated by having a person who is vital to that success not be there."
O'Malley's continued presence at City Hall is important to how private investors view Baltimore.
For months developers eyeing projects in the city have been asking about
the mayor's future, said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development
Corp., the city's quasi-public
economic development arm.
"There are deals we've started on where people want to know, 'Is the mayor still going to be here?'" Brodie said.
In the past, he said, out-of-town developers viewed Baltimore as "a closed shop" where only local developers were warmly welcomed by city officials.
O'Malley has helped change that image, he said.
From investors' perspective, the city is like the stock market - it's
all about perception. And by remaining, O'Malley creates a perception of
stability, said Del. Howard P. Rawlings of
"When you make investments, you also make investments in the leadership," Rawlings said. "His leadership of the city makes investors comfortable spending millions of dollars."
As O'Malley deliberated, those who know him were divided about whether or not to weigh in.
One who did offer his guidance was Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, who made it clear to O'Malley that he wanted him to stay on.
"As I've said, we didn't get into this in two years, and we're not going
to get out of it in two years," Norris said of Baltimore's seemingly entrenched
violence. "You can't do this, you can't
be a pro-active police agency without the support of the chief executive."
O'Malley has been a champion of the department, sometimes allowing Norris to remain silent while he commented publicly on controversial police policies or incidents.
Meanwhile, a public official who occasionally has been the target of the mayor's ire seized the opportunity to seek a thaw in sometimes icy relations.
City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has borne the brunt of some
of O'Malley's harshest tirades regarding public safety, and the two rarely
communicate directly. In disputes between
police and prosecutors, O'Malley has been solidly in the police camp.
In a congratulatory note to O'Malley yesterday, Jessamy wrote, "Today I will ask the mayor for his support to move forward in a renewed partnership."
But not all Baltimoreans were pleased with O'Malley.
The Rev. Curtis Jones, co-chairman of Baltimoreans United in Leadership
Development (BUILD), a church-based activist group that has clashed with
the mayor, said that O'Malley has
been distracted by his personal and political drama.
"Maybe he can get on now with being mayor," Jones said.
David H. Hillman, chief executive of Southern Management Corp., which owns several downtown residential buildings, said it didn't really matter whether O'Malley stayed or left.
"One's as bad as the other in my opinion," Hillman said. "In my opinion the political leadership is so fragmented, it's inconsequential."
The Rev. John R. Sharp of Govans Presbyterian Church sounded a more
hopeful note. Sharp has been working with the mayor on a plan for subsidized
senior housing at the Memorial
"I've discovered him to be a man of his word," Sharp said of O'Malley. "I think its good news for Baltimore."
Sun staff writers Scott Calvert, Sarah Koenig, Allison Klein and Laurie Willis contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun