- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 18, 1999

Marisleysis Gonzalez, a cousin to 6-year-old Cuban celebrity Elian Gonzalez, has sent a letter to Hillary Clinton, asking the first lady to use her influence to help her family keep Elian in Miami. “We beg you now as a mother, to be the first lady that truly crosses ethnic barriers and speaks out for the children,” said the letter. “Please, please help.”

Little Elian became a household name after he was picked up off the coast of Florida on Thanksgiving day by the U.S. Coast Guard, clinging to an inner tube. Since then, the Cuban boy has been at the center of an international custody battle which has become politically volatile. Elian’s great-aunt and great-uncle in Miami have petitioned Florida state courts to have permanent custody of him. Elian’s father, meanwhile, wants the boy to join him in Cuba. Elian’s mother and stepfather drowned at sea, after a motorboat, which Elian was traveling in, capsized on its way to the Miami.

The controversy puts the first lady in the awkward position of having to distance herself from yet another of her husband’s policy decisions. This month, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro orchestrated huge protests in Cuba, calling for Elian’s return to his father. In what appears to have been a politically motivated decision, President Clinton subsequently decided to give the Justice Department, rather than state courts, jurisdiction over the Elian custody case, making it unlikely that a case made by the boy’s Miami family would be considered.

One hopes Mrs. Clinton, who “intends” to run for a Senate seat in New York, doesn’t have to take the time to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of former Cubans and other Elian sympathizers in her would-be constituency before she takes up Marisleysis Gonzalez’s plea. The first lady should use her considerable sway over the president on Elian’s behalf. The child deserves to live outside the dictatorial grip of Mr. Castro, and Mrs. Clinton should say so.

m BALTIMORE’S TERRIBLE TOLL: Martin O’Malley, whose tough stance on crime helped him to win this fall’s primary and general elections in Baltimore, took the oath of office as mayor amid marching bands, flag bearers and the usual inaugural accouterments. Voters had told him at the polls that they looked forward to Mr. O’Malley’s leadership and pledge of a zero-tolerance crime initiative and they ought to. Like Washington, Philadelphia and other urban environments, Baltimore has big-city ills, including violent crime and a proliferation of drugs. Those facts rang home again to Baltimoreans recently when, as they prepared for the mayoral inauguration, they learned a gang war might be gripping their already-violent city.

Five women were found murdered, and a suspect in the case was arrested within hours and imprisoned to ward off retaliatory violence after another suspect was stabbed in the throat within hours of that arrest. Police do not yet have two other suspected assailants in their grips, but they do know this: The murdered women were either relatives or friends of drug dealers, and the slayings were carried out by a rival drug gang.

Those five shootings capped a weekend in which 11 persons were killed, pushing Baltimore’s 1999 murder rate to 289. The death toll is particularly troubling considering the fact Baltimore, America’s fourth most-deadly city, has had more than 300 murders for nine straight years and appears on track to do the same this year.

Now that candidate Martin O’Malley is Mayor Martin O’Malley, it falls to him to change those negatives and to follow through on his campaign promise of zero tolerance. Such policies have aided crime prevention efforts in New York and Washington, and there is no reason to think more of the same will not work in Baltimore.

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