Did the flames and fury that ravaged Baltimore last month reflect the fate of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s likely presidential campaign?
O’Malley fashions himself as a no-nonsense crime fighter, but his city has become a national monument to urban devastation and is experiencing one of its worst homicide sprees in years.
The former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor is expected to announce Saturday that he’s seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. When he addresses a rally in Baltimore’s Federal Hill Park, in the city’s Inner Harbor, he’ll offer a record that’s part gutsy liberal — championing gay marriage and higher minimum wages — and part tough-on-crime urban healer.
Others in the Democratic presidential race, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, don’t have that background. But they also don’t have to answer the kinds of hard questions O’Malley faces, particularly among African Americans.
He made his reputation as the mayor who successfully reduced crime in one of the nation’s most violent cities. A centerpiece of his strategy was a “zero-tolerance” policy toward any violation of the law, no matter how minute. It chilled further the already tense relationship between police and crime-ravaged communities.
“It was a miserable failure,” said the Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr., president of the city’s Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore. “It was so lopsided; it affected minorities more than anyone else.”
The Justice Policy Institute, a nonprofit-research group, found that those policies resulted in an unusually high number of arrests, “many for minor and sometimes frivolous offenses, like loitering and open-container violations.”
An opponent could have an easy time ripping into O’Malley on this issue. “This is a ready-made TV ad,” said Craig Varoga, chief strategist for O’Malley’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign, now a Democratic consultant not aligned with a presidential candidate.
O’Malley has vigorously defended his urban policies, saying they were effective in reducing crime.
Under his leadership, he told the Polk County, Iowa, Democratic Party on April 10, “Baltimore went on to achieve the greatest reduction of crime of any city in America.”
O’Malley points to his expanding efforts to deal with police brutality and has noted that all over Baltimore people were clamoring for a crackdown on crime when he took office. His supporters refer to a 2010 Baltimore Sun column that noted: “People all over the city were sold on zero tolerance. You can knock it now, but that’s how a lot of us felt 10 years ago, as Baltimore came hobbling and bloodied out of the 1990s.”
The Sun found that Baltimore’s 2000-2010 decline in “incidents of crime” was the biggest drop of any major city.
SOURCE: David Lightman
McClatchy Washington Bureau