Politics & Policy

How Martin O’Malley Created Today’s Baltimore

The Democratic presidential candidate squandered a quarter century’s worth of opportunities to improve the city and state.

Maryland Democrat and 2016 presidential aspirant Martin O’Malley called the Baltimore riots a “wake-up call” for the entire country. O’Malley was a fixture in Baltimore politics and government for 24 years before Baltimore exploded last week. Was he asleep during that time?

Eight years on Baltimore’s city council, eight years as Baltimore mayor, and eight years as Maryland’s governor. During much of O’Malley’s quarter century in power, he had an invulnerable Democratic majority in Annapolis, powerful Maryland Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate, and Democrats in charge in the White House. O’Malley’s tenure held promise for Maryland. But the promise was squandered when he failed to turn Maryland around. At city hall and in the statehouse, O’Malley missed opportunity after opportunity to make critical improvements. Last week’s riot is proof. Confident, optimistic people do not destroy and burn.

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Appearing May 3 on NBC’s Meet the Press, O’Malley declared that “what’s happened in Baltimore should be a wake-up call for the entire country. . . . We have deep problems as a country, and we need deeper understanding if we’re going to give our children a better future.” O’Malley’s apparent blindness to his own culpability for the riots is astonishing.

Under O’Malley, Maryland should have become an industrial powerhouse. Tax reform should have filled vacant industrial parcels and created thousands of jobs. O’Malley should have overseen a Baltimore renaissance ignited by workers with income to spend on the city’s many vacant properties. He should have revolutionized policing with leadership, modern equipment, and training. Neighborhoods lost to drugs and gangs should have been rescued, and public health should have improved. But the O’Malley legacy is different.

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On unemployment, O’Malley never grasped that Maryland’s job-creation rival is Virginia, not China. As he jetted off on foreign-trade missions, Caterpillar and Ford put factories and jobs in Georgia and Ohio. In 2014, Forbes ranked Maryland a lackluster 20th in the nation for business climate, and ninth from the top for business costs. O’Malley could have changed this.

O’Malley also worked to make Maryland an undocumented-alien sanctuary. Immigration violators with work permits replaced Baltimoreans on construction projects in their own neighborhoods. President Obama’s immigration-policy Pied Piper, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.), in September called O’Malley a “wonderful champion” of the undocumented. On April 15, Gutierrez called Marylanders worried about illegal immigration “enemies of the community.”

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O’Malley never grasped that Maryland’s job-creation rival is Virginia, not China.

On crime, O’Malley takes credit for “the greatest reduction of any U.S. major city” during his service as Baltimore mayor. In 2005, the Baltimore Sun reports, “the Police Department made more than 100,000 arrests in a city of 640,000 people.” But “mass arrests that were part of O’Malley’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policing strategy” became controversial, the Sun added, and O’Malley ultimately backed off the policy and paid out $1 million in damages to detainees.

A criminal-justice credential O’Malley has not mentioned on the presidential stump is his neglect of the Baltimore jail, which was taken over by violent gangs and corrupt corrections officers on his watch. O’Malley sidestepped responsibility by leaving the case to federal investigators in 2011.

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No living Maryland Democrat has been better positioned than Martin O’Malley to remake Baltimore. William Schaefer, Maryland’s late governor and Baltimore mayor, is remembered for building the Camden Yards ballfield and cleaning up Baltimore’s once-dilapidated waterfront. But O’Malley will be remembered for his “rain tax,” crony capitalism, the jail debacle, and mass arrests. He will also be remembered for hubris: How else to describe a man who rushed to Baltimore from abroad to parade in front of the cameras during the riots?

Today’s city hall has much to answer for, but O’Malley also deserves much of the blame for last week’s chaos in Maryland’s largest city. In fact, Baltimoreans heckled O’Malley when he appeared on street corners last week to mew at them about the riots. The people know their heroes.

#related#Speaking of heroes, near Baltimore’s city hall there is a modest but poignant monument to Baltimore’s black soldiers. The monument lists the years of their participation in American conflicts from the Revolution onward. Last on the list is 1970, a Vietnam milepost. The monument is visible from the mayor’s window, and it should be modified to honor the sacrifices of Baltimore’s black soldiers after 1970, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The omission suggests government indifference to what the governed endure. Mr. O’Malley owns a quarter century of that indifference. Now it must end.

Presidential aspirant O’Malley had a quarter century to make Baltimore better for citizens facing daily crises of food, shelter, and work. He had the chance of a political lifetime to improve day-to-day stability for the most vulnerable. He had the chance to lead but did not take it. As Baltimore recovers, and with its city government reeling, Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland’s new Republican leadership are working to rekindle confidence and optimism in a city where, in too many quarters, it is extremely hard to find. But the nobility and bravery that, in 1970, animated black Baltimoreans in Vietnam is alive today in the city. The world saw it last week as Toya Graham pulled her hooded son out of the riot.

Marylanders and their new leadership in Annapolis ought to undertake a sustained effort in Baltimore to help rebuild confidence and optimism, and to empower mothers like Tonya Graham. It is never too late to send in the cavalry. Our fellow human beings in Baltimore, our fellow Marylanders, are worth it.

— Richard J. Douglas is an Iraq War veteran and a lawyer in Prince George’s County, Md.


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