Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Man Without Principles

When Baltimore city councilman Martin O’Malley first began making a name for himself in the late 1990s by criticizing the police department and advocating “zero tolerance” on crime, I asked a co-worker who knew him what she thought of him. Did he really care or was he just an ambitious young politician?

“Martin O’Malley doesn’t have a principled bone in his body,” came her reply.

So I was perplexed to learn later that she was driving voters to the polls to vote for him as mayor. “I like his positions on the issues,” she explained.

Her particular issue was gay rights. And after O’Malley was elected mayor, his housing commissioner, Paul Graziano, made news by referring to gays as “faggots” and making other hostile remarks before being arrested for disorderly conduct in a bar. O’Malley shrugged it off as the product of alcohol.

Had Graziano used the “n” word or made his remarks about blacks, he’d have been fired on the spot. But gays? Well, they didn’t carry the same political weight.

Pick up a scorpion who needs your help, expect to get stung.

O’Malley sure stung Baltimore when he praised State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy last week. As I pointed out recently, this is the man who publicly insulted her and later gave her a fat raise to entice others to run against her.

Funny thing is, perhaps she could have been a more effective prosecutor had he stretched out the hand of partnership when first elected mayor. If he had invited her into his criminal justice policy circle, sought her opinion, and worked with her on innovative ways to end the revolving door of justice for violent criminals.

Instead, he played the part of Lone Ranger come to rescue the system and gave her the back of his hand from the get-go. He tried to bully everyone else into doing things his way, too. He insulted not just Jessamy but the chief judge of the District Court by sending her a cartoon “stick figure” drawing of his plan to reduce caseloads (so she could understand it.) And according to Jessamy, he carried around cardboard cut-outs of Jessamy and
U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiaggo to mock them for not personally coming to meetings of the city criminal justice coordinating council. (Of course, he stopped going himself once he ramped up his gubernatorial efforts.)

Though he claimed success, O'Malley largely failed in his criminal justice agenda, but that’s a whole other story. His biggest failure was in making an enemy of the state’s attorney, who learned from him how to bully her partner, lay off blame, and grab credit.

And in making her an enemy, he helped create a state's attorney who is obsessed with her image and disconnected from the realities and practices of her office. She’s a poor manager who does not want to be told bad news and surrounds herself with yes-people. And as her profile rises with each successive election her accountability diminishes accordingly, to where it's now about zero. We will never, ever hear Jessamy say what Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld said the other day, that he was sorry he did not protect Stephen Pitcairn and the community.

I’ve spent over two years writing about issues that O’Malley as mayor knew were true. The leniency of judges and parole commissioners towards violent offenders, the unhealthy relationship between Jessamy and the police, the failure of Jessamy to change the prosecutorial culture that contributes heavily to the revolving cycle of violence.

But like a scorpion, O’Malley has turned on the city. When asked to weigh in on her performance, STING! He tells the Sun what a great job she's done. Here are some of his blatant lies:

“We have done a lot of positive things together.”

“[W]e talk every day.”

“…the higher level of functioning especially with the War Room…”

“I believe her leadership and the performance of that office has been a part of why Baltimore has been able to achieve historic reductions these last three years.”

And when asked if he was endorsing Jessamy, O’Malley said “I anticipate…yeah, stay tuned.”

It’s the Twilight Zone. I guess his close race with Ehrlich for re-election sent him spinning off into the alternative reality of politics. O’Malley praises Jessamy so he can share credit as governor for crime reduction "these last three years." And he doesn’t want to offend pro-Jessamy leadership and voters in Baltimore whom he may need for his re-election.

So he insults the intelligence of Baltimoreans instead. He’s fooling no one about his opinion of and relationship with Jessamy. And his endorsement of her or vice versa won’t have anything to do with their respective elections. He of all people has forgotten that crime is a local issue.

But he revealed that my co-worker’s assessment, made a dozen years ago, was and remains absolutely accurate. His own political ambition means more to him than anything else, including the city that launched his political career and helped carry him to Annapolis. He would give us more Pat Jessamy if it means he still gets to be governor.



  1. Thank you! Great insight and writing. It is appreciated.

  2. Sharp dissection, Page! Would love to see a reporter drill down on the whys and wherefores behind all of this....