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The Nose

A Fan's Notes

Posted 11/20/2002

Add another wide-eyed fawner to the long list of Mayor Martin O'Malley lovers: Robert Kurson, senior editor at Chicago magazine. Kurson penned thousands of words of joyful prose about our singing hizzoner in the December issue of Esquire magazine, which christened O'Malley "the best young mayor in America." In the Nose's estimation, the piece gushed with the gusto of a just-released felon watching porn; Kurson seemed literally aroused by the mayor's energy, dedication, and results. A sympathetic, ornate writer who often chooses pet subjects--he's the author of two fan books, The Official Three Stooges Encyclopedia and The Official Three Stooges Cookbook, and evocative articles about overlooked folks (a sports figure, an overweight man, his favorite teacher)--Kurson was true to form in his approach to O'Malley. The result, in the words of Baltimore City State's Attorney (and O'Malley foil) Patricia Jessamy, who wrote a letter of complaint to Esquire, was "a self-serving account that sounded more like an insider's account of a sophomoric locker room, complete with four-letter words, to describe a pompous and arrogant boys' club."

Perhaps Jessamy should be reminded that Esquire is a men's magazine, inherently prone to boys' stuff. And it's not the first time its editors have given a hand job to a Baltimore mayor. In a 1984 piece, freelancer Richard Ben Cramer, a Johns Hopkins grad and former Sun reporter, wrote ad hominem about the virtues and endearing foibles of then-mayor William Donald Schaefer, whom Esquire named "The Best Mayor in America." Within weeks, The Washington Post cut Schaefer down to size through statistics that revealed the city's sad reality. (Cramer, in a wonderfully cannibalistic twist, was the only journalist quoted in Kurson's piece, saying O'Malley is "impossible to take your eyes off.")

Esquire's treatment of the city's leader falls squarely in a tradition of visiting journalists who blow through town, scarf up the company line, and treat a national audience to a rosy view. We here in Bodymore, Murderland--an ugly-but-true moniker for one of the most violent large cities in the America--know otherwise. While O'Malley has always shown great potential, and after three years in office the trend lines are pointing upward on some fronts, overall the results remain paltry--and largely depend on rising self-perception. The city's psyche is not as depressed and desperate as it was when O'Malley was elected, and that's a laudable improvement. But it shouldn't be enough to dub him the nation's best.

So, from the Nose to Esquire: O'Malley needs a few more years to earn this kind of coverage because, for now, there's no there there. If nothing else, Kurson's piece proves that a recent O'Malley hire--a $125-an-hour public-relations consultant--is a waste of precious tax dollars: O'Malley obviously can take care of spin solo.

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