Source:  Baltimore Sun Sunspot

                    Mayor makes mark, as vowed
                    But long-term impact of O'Malley's style is subject of debate


                    By Gerard Shields
                           Sun Staff

                    Mayor Martin O'Malley's brash fighting style in demanding court
                    reforms from district judges -- using mocking stick figures and terms
                    like "throw up" -- doesn't shock longtime O'Malley observers.

                    They watched Councilman O'Malley employ the same
                    throw-gasoline-on-the-raging-fire zeal in his demand for police

                    O'Malley took on then-police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier
                    even as Frazier seemed to be winning part of the war on crime,
                    accusing him of intentionally misleading the public with false shooting
                    statistics. O'Malley won that bitter fight -- audits showed the drop in
                    shootings was 30 percent less than the department claimed -- and his
                    win in the primary election helped spur Frazier's departure.

                    "He's like a pit bull," said Gary McLhinney, president of the
                    Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police. "If he gets ahold of you, he's not
                    going to let go until you give up. The more you fight, the harder he

                    On Friday -- St. Patrick's Day -- O'Malley will have been
                    Baltimore's mayor for 100 days. And although debate will continue
                    over his political tactics, no one argues that the 37-year-old mayor,
                    who moonlights as leader of an Irish rock band, hasn't fulfilled his
                    pledge to shake up city government.

                    "He makes you want to stand and cheer," said Carol Arscott, a
                    former Republican activist who now operates a political consulting
                    firm that tracked the mayor's race.

                    The long-term impact of O'Malley's methods is another issue. Even
                    though criminal justice officials agreed to a court reform plan last
                    week -- which the mayor could claim as a victory -- some people
                    see trouble ahead for O'Malley. They warn that bombastic ways that
                    may have worked in the City Council won't necessarily play out in
                    the larger arena of Maryland politics.

                    Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the House Appropriations chairman and
                    one of O'Malley's chief supporters, said while he appreciates the
                    mayor's impatience, his confrontational style isn't the sole way to
                    achieve results.

                    O'Malley appeared before Rawlings' committee early in the session,
                    insisting that it delay state funding for court reforms until his demands
                    were met, later telling legislators that the judges' claim of progress
                    "makes me throw up." The committee approved the funds, with a
                    between-the-lines message to the mayor that he's not the only player.

                    "We are the ones who released the funds," Rawlings said. "We are
                    the ones who are going to have to fund a budget. He has been an
                    important catalyst, but we are going to achieve this goal with or
                    without him."

                    But with his political future now tied to his pledge to reduce city
                    crime, O'Malley has no qualms about pulling everyone from Rawlings
                    to Gov. Parris N. Glendening into the fight and holding them
                    accountable to the public.

                    By labeling District Court Chief Judge Martha Rasin an
                    "obstructionist," he dragged the court leader and fellow judges --
                    who are elected to 10- to 15-year terms and operate in relative
                    anonymity -- into the spotlight.

                    "He's put a face to these people who never had faces before,"
                    McLhinney said. "Now people know who they are. Nobody could
                    pick Judge Rasin out on the street before. They can now."

                    O'Malley has public opinion on his side, which can be to a persistent
                    politician what the presence of blood is to a shark.

                    "He has a great sense of politics as theater," Western Maryland
                    College Professor Herb Smith said of O'Malley's first months in
                    office. "And he's got a winning hand with this [issue]."

                    If you're an O'Malley target, life can become pretty miserable. Rasin
                    fired back, accusing the mayor of immaturity by calling his Annapolis
                    testimony "a tantrum." Some observers of Maryland politics question
                    whether the moves are responsible or fair, empathizing with the
                    judges and likening O'Malley's actions to chasing a gnat with a chain

                    "He makes more trouble for himself sometimes by being a little more
                    aggressive than he needs to be and a little less conciliatory," said
                    Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science
                    professor. "It's a tactic that can backfire. Sometimes, [opponents]
                    can react by blowing you up."

                    Northwest Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen Holton understands
                    the frustration of judges and state legislators not accustomed to
                    O'Malley's steamrolling ways. Many liken his style to that of former
                    mayor and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whose political mantra
                    was once described by a loyalist as "ready, fire, aim."

                    "It can be frustrating for others who have seen the mayor in his more
                    polished campaign position," Holton said. "In a big arena, it may
                    appear to be flip, but he is fully aware of what he's doing. When he
                    believes in something, he is very passionate and he will convey the
                    message in a way best understood by the most amount of people."

                    O'Malley, welcoming the court reform agreement, said he had no
                    regrets over the tactics he employed.

                    "The point is that we have accomplished the goal to establish
                    priorities in the criminal justice system," O'Malley said.

                    O'Malley's assertiveness is felt by many, not just the judges.

                    Recently, the mayor said he requested that the Walters Art Gallery
                    provide paintings for his office. Museum officials objected, worried
                    about the security and condition of the pieces in the uncontrolled
                    climate, O'Malley said.

                    The mayor reminded them that the works technically belong to the
                    mayor, City Council and citizens of Baltimore.

                    The paintings now hang in the mayor's office.

                    Sun staff writer Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.

                    Originally published on Mar 12 2000