O'Malley: Baltimore would be central to a presidential run

“I think it has to be central,” O'Malley says on Meet the Press.

Pushing back against criticism of his own policing strategies in Baltimore, former Gov. Martin O'Malley said the tensions that erupted into riots last week would be central to his presidential campaign if he decides to run.

A fired-up O'Malley said Washington has failed since the Carter administration to implement a strategy for impoverished city neighborhoods and the federal money that has been invested in places like Baltimore has been "spit in the bucket" compared to the amount needed.

"I did not dedicate my life to making Baltimore a safer and more just place because it was easy. And I am more inclined and more deeply motivated now to address what's wrong with our country and what needs to be healed and what needs to be fixed," O'Malley said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

O'Malley, who has said he will decide this month whether to seek the Democratic nomination, said the situation in Baltimore "has to be central" to any presidential campaign.

When NBC's Chuck Todd asked if O'Malley would announce his 2016 decision in Baltimore, the former governor said he "wouldn't think of announcing anyplace else."

The Freddie Gray case, and the riots that erupted early last week in Baltimore, dominated the discussion on all of the major Sunday political shows. Several elected leaders from Maryland, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, were pressed on the causes of the distrust some have for police.

Rawlings-Blake, who has been criticized by some for not being more visible on Monday, and not asking for help from the state until the situation had spiraled out of control, defended her handling of the riots.

"You know, I think everyone has their opinion," Rawlings-Blake said on NBC. "That's really not my focus. As a leader, I'm focused on bringing us through this crisis.

Rawlings-Blake noted that she ascended to the mayor's office in 2010 after her predecessor, Sheila Dixon, was convicted of embezzlement.

"When I came into office, we were already the face of a national scandal," Rawlings-Blake said. "That's how I got into office. And I know how to lead our city through tough times, and that's what I'm going to do again."

Dixon, who some believe will run for mayor again next year, has declined to assess Rawlings-Blake's efforts in dealing with the crisis. But she told The Baltimore Sun last week that a mayor has "to go and be engaged" during a time of crisis.

Cummings was one of the few to discuss the charges brought against the six officers involved in Gray's arrest. The Baltimore Democrat lauded the decision of State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby to charge those officers.

"I feel very comfortable with regard to what Ms. Mosby has done," he said on ABC's "This Week." "Her integrity is impeccable, without a doubt."

"I think she made the very best decision that she could," he added.

O'Malley, who was mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007, has faced new scrutiny in recent days about his "zero tolerance" approach to policing in the city, and whether it was at least partly to blame for tension between neighbors and police in some communities.

Thousands were arrested in Baltimore for small offenses during O'Malley's tenure. Many were never prosecuted. The NAACP and the ACLU filed a lawsuit over his policing; the city paid a settlement after O'Malley left Baltimore for Annapolis.

But the former governor has held fast to his position that the approach was the right one, particularly given the level of violence in the city at the time. Total incidents of crime — as measured by the FBI as violent and property crimes — declined 43 percent from 2000 to 2010.

"We didn't get it wrong then, but we have yet to get it entirely right," O'Malley said. "We are getting smarter and better every day at this, but we still have a lot of work to do."

Cummings, who has been marching with protesters in Baltimore since Monday, called for an "inclusion revolution," addressing joblessness and investing in children and cities in order to prevent future unrest nationwide.

He also called for a careful examination of Baltimore's Police Department.

Cummings said the city had done "pretty good" in the response to Gray's death.

"It was a very unfortunate incident with Freddie Gray, a young man who died a very tragic death," he said. "But as far as Baltimore's concerned, I thought initially we had a lot of problems on Monday, but I think overall it's been a lot of peaceful protest, and that's a good thing."

The two Democrats running to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski also weighed in Sunday on national television.

In some communities, Rep. Donna F. Edwards said, law enforcement has become the only face of government residents see.

The Prince George's County lawmaker said residents should instead see more investment in schools and economic development.

"There is an over-policing that's going on not just in Baltimore but also across this country," Edwards said on Fox News Sunday. "That's not the fault of police; that's the fault of policymakers."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen also spoke of a need for more federal funding to communities in places such as Baltimore.

"There are a whole constellation of problems here, but there are some systematic underlying problems that should be addressed by government, both at the local level, the state level and the federal level," the Montgomery County lawmaker said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Van Hollen is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

"The debate that is going on right now in Washington, while it's often abstract in terms of numbers and documents, the real-world impact it can have will make a difference in people's lives," he said.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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