- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

Boy. That Martin O’Malley’s got what they call chutzpah.

He has been the mayor of Baltimore for six years, long enough for any schmo to latch onto a quality-of-life issue of political consequence — crime, schools, something, indeed anything — to make a name for himself among Democratic and Republican voters. But he hasn’t. He’s just another politician who charms voters with promises.

Mr. O’Malley has fallen in line with the usual Maryland suspects and now he’s …well, he’s … he’s the Man Who Would Be Governor.

To Martin O’Malley, like the Maryland Democrats who hold sway in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill, school reform is a four-letter word. And in regards to crime, their attitude might as well be, “Let them kill themselves. The bloodletting isn’t in our neighborhoods.”

Mr. O’Malley’s disinterest in the lives of Baltimore’s uneducated folk should have brought broadsides from the left and the right. How dare a politician who entered office with a promissory note to substantially lower violent crime and improve schools, but failed to deliver, run for governor.

When Mr. O’Malley took office in 2000, Baltimore’s national face was the acclaimed TV show “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Today, in 2006, following what could be termed a revolving door of police officials, Baltimore’s image is still one of murder and mayhem, blatant threats and killing of witnesses, and general overall violence.

Leave the bustling Inner Harbor or leave the safety net of the twin stadiums for the Ravens and the Orioles, and you venture at your own risk. One native Baltimorean recently told me, “drugs and druggies” have taken over entire blocks. A former Baltimore City employee, she painted pictures of “The Wire” and “The Corner,” two other TV series that simulate grim pictures of “life” on the streets of Baltimore.

As for quality public education, nothing has changed. Parents never marched into City Hall on North Holliday Street and gave Hizzoner a piece of their mind. The Democrats in the state legislature, meanwhile, were too busy trying to keep Republicans out of the governor’s mansion and running roughshod from the capitol. The school system is so bad, in fact, that Mr. O’Malley had to help orchestrate a financial bailout. The collective neglect by the Democrats — from Steny Hoyer and Barbara Mikulski on down — means Baltimore schools are as pathetic as those in Washington, as bad today as they were when Mr. O’Malley first took office.

An article this week in The Washington Post speaks plaintively, saying that in recent years, the Baltimore school system has been “marked by financial difficulties and repeated power struggles between city and state officials. Student performance has improved in lower grades in recent years, but older students continue to lag far behind their counterparts in other jurisdictions.”

Democrat Josh Rales, a former Republican who now is in search of a Senate seat, borrows a line and says in a recent TV ad that “equality in education is the civil rights issue of our time.” I like the Rales take on some issues, but “equality in education” is not the problem. Indeed, educational opportunities will never be equal. I mean, while student performance in the lower grades in Baltimore schools has improved, as The Post pointed out, “older students continue to lag far behind their counterparts in other jurisdictions.” Moreover, with embarrassing graduation rates, even students with grades good enough to get into college, who really believes that an education at, say, the University of Maryland is “equal” to the cache of an education at the University of Virginia? (Thomas Jefferson, who put his political backbone into public education, saw to that.)

Campaign ads by Gov. Bob Ehrlich also point out the low standing of Baltimore schools, which are the worst in the state (Prince George’s County sits slightly above Charm City’s). Mr. Ehrlich doesn’t lay all the blame on Mr. O’Malley, however. He rightly criticizes the Democrats who run Annapolis, since it was the legislature that blocked state officials from taking over Baltimore schools so they could be reformed. And the Democrats stood united even when one of their own, Parris Glendening, was governor.

Martin O’Malley seems like a nice enough guy. But if he can’t improve a city school system, why would Marylanders entrust him with an entire state department of education. Mr. O’Malley couldn’t rid Baltimore of its bloody image of rampant violence and “drugs and druggies”; why in the world would Marylanders want to place the state’s public safety agencies in his hands?

And what’s next after the governor’s mansion? Will Mr. O’Malley, already the darling of the mainstream media, go in search of a perch on Capitol Hill? A seat in the House? Maybe take on the grande dame of Maryland’s congressional delegation — Miss Mikulski?

I know how Martin O’Malley became a state prosecutor, but how in the world did he become the mayor of Baltimore. Charm? Good looks? Family connections? “Hey, I’m Martin, and I want to be your mayor — twice.”

Good looks will only take a mayor so far. (Ask Marion Barry.) And Charm City and the state of Maryland have always progressed on much more than charm. (Ask Don Schaefer.)

Indeed, mayors can ignore some of the problems some of the time, and he can ignore some of the problems all of the time, but a mayor who wants to be governor shouldn’t be allowed to ignore failing schools and homicidal life on the streets at any time.

Please. Read what Martin O’Malley said in his 2000 State of the City address: “We have our marching orders — the voters who elected us made their priorities very clear: they want safe streets; they want schools that educate children, they want a clean city; and they want jobs. Now, we must deliver.”

Promises, promises. What chutzpah.

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