Former Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley Heckled in Return to City; Criticized for Tough Anti-Crime Policies

Potential Democratic presidential candidate and former Baltimore mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Potential Democratic presidential candidate and former Baltimore mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley was heckled on a packed street corner in West Baltimore Tuesday, after he cut short a trip to Europe to return to the city he led as mayor for seven years.

O’Malley (D), who is preparing to launch a White House bid, waded into a crowd near the burned-out shell of a CVS pharmacy that was destroyed and looted Monday night. He was confronted by two men on motorcycles who shouted expletives and blamed the recent violence in the city on O’Malley’s tough-on-crime policies from 1999 to 2007.

“I just wanted to be present. There’s a lot of pain in our city right now, a lot of people feeling very sad,” O’Malley told reporters at the scene. “Look, we’ve got to come through this together. We’re a people who’ve seen worse days, and we’ll come through this day.”

In his travels to early nominating states, O’Malley has described Baltimore to Democratic audiences as a down-on-its-luck city that came to believe in its potential again while he was mayor. He has trumpeted progress made during his tenure, including a steep drop in violent crime, which is attributed in part to a zero-tolerance approach that led to a sharp increase in arrests.

The mayhem that broke out Monday following the funeral of Freddie Gray— who died after being injured in police custody — complicates that narrative. And the unrest has given critics of O’Malley’s aggressive policing strategy a fresh platform to blame him for some of the deep-seated mistrust between the city’s police and the poor communities, more than eight years after he left the mayor’s office.

“It sure isn’t going to help him,” said Gene Raynor, a longtime O’Malley critic who was a close friend of the late Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor William Donald Schaefer (D). “I think it does reflect on him.”

During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday, former Republican National Committee chairman Michael S. Steele accused O’Malley of contributing to a poisoned atmosphere in Baltimore. Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, said tensions had simmered for a long time and got worse during O’Malley’s tenure as mayor.

“You couldn’t sit on your stoop, people were harassed, and so all these tensions have been building and simmering for some time,” Steele said. “The trigger, obviously, is the death of Freddie Gray, but there’s systemic issues there.”

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