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Campaign Beat

O'Malley's March

Democrat Wastes No Time Starting Transition Plans

By Molly Rath | Posted 10/13/1999

In the months preceding last month's primary election, mayoral candidate Martin O'Malley ran a campaign focused on issues and rooted in charisma. It worked. On Sept. 14, he captured the Democratic nomination with 53 percent of the primary vote and, given Baltimore's lopsided Democratic majority, he's expected to handily win the Nov. 2 general election.

As the force of O'Malley's personality appeared to transcend conventional political assumptions in the primary campaign, the executive decisions he's begun making in preparation for a mayoral administration seem to confound—or perhaps ignore—political perceptions.

Take his choice last month of Downtown Partnership chief Laurie Schwartz to staff his transition team. Schwartz was just one of two such appointees, the other being community activist Anana Kambon. Having someone with Schwartz's ties so central to setting the likely next administration's tone sparked concerns about whether O'Malley will weigh neighborhood needs equally with the demands of downtown development interests, to whom he has connections of his own. The candidate seems unfazed by such talk.

"I'm not worried about appearances. The only appearance I'm worried about is what the product looks like when this transition is finished," O'Malley said in an Oct. 8 interview. "Laurie Schwartz is good, she's smart, and she's been in government before. Once the larger transition team starts to roll out . . . people [will] start seeing the breadth of experience and the diversity of gender and race."

So onward the Democrat marches toward City Hall—not taking Nov. 2 for granted, exactly, but getting a head start on the tasks ahead. He's asked a dozen people to staff his steering committee, which he hopes to have in place by next week, and which will, in turn, appoint other committees to focus on individual agencies and departments.

"Between now and Dec. 8 I've got to pull together a mayor's office," O'Malley says. "I have 80 committees to staff, 150 staff people to hire, and 1,500 appointed positions to fill. Although maybe I should learn from the Laurie and Anana situation and wait. . . . It's just part of what I've got to wade through; I'm not going to get distracted by it."

If the rumor mill started churning with the Schwartz and Kambon appointments, it's now spinning over the makeup of O'Malley's emerging inner circle. But contrary to political scuttlebutt, he says there are no short lists. "We've got a golden opportunity because I didn't make any promises during the course of the campaign, only that Frazier's out, Henson's out, and Balog is out," he says, naming the police, housing, and public works chiefs whose promised ousters O'Malley trumpeted during his campaign.

And while O'Malley says he'll "look to the business community in making many of my top appointments," he's not relying on Baltimore's white-collar set alone. Earlier this month, he announced plans to hire Jack Maple, the former New York deputy police commissioner turned $2,000-a-day zero-tolerance guru, to lead his police-commissioner search, which he'll ask foundations and businesses to fund. He's also consulting Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell's former chief of staff, David Cohen, whom the Greater Baltimore Committee brought to Baltimore Oct. 8 to meet with O'Malley and Republican candidate David Tufaro. By that evening, O'Malley had scheduled meetings with Cohen for later in the month.

Beyond scouting hires, O'Malley has begun sewing relationships—and patching them where necessary. So far he's met with city schools superintendent Robert Booker and all state senators who didn't back him in the primary.

But even with the early start, O'Malley warns that the transition phase of his prospective administration will go on beyond the Dec. 8 swearing-in.

"We'll at least have interim heads for police, public works, and housing, so if there's a snowstorm, the government's up and running on Dec. 8," he says. "But we're looking to next March or April, as Annapolis is winding up, to kind of be the real crunch time for the big decisions. That's when a lot of the tough decisions will come to a head."

But as O'Malley assembles an administration, his plans for tackling the city's problems remain starkly unformed; many of his campaign ideas are still just that—ideas, courses he's interested in pursuing that he admits may or may not work. The task of actually putting policy into practice doesn't appear to daunt him: "I'm going to hire people with more expertise than I have."

It's safe to assume he'll also rely on what has served him in the past—an appeal to optimism, confidence, and raw emotion. Pressed by a reporter for specifics on how he'll balance the politics, high expectations, and competing interests that come with the job of turning Baltimore around, O'Malley shrugs. "You've gotta be a believer," he says.

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