Nitkin: Hmmm. Is Ryan an O'Malley supporter, or a Duncan or Ehrlich supporter in clever disguise? Either way, here's my answer: Many city critics do live outside of Baltimore, and many have moved away from the city over the years for better schools, safer streets and other amenities. O'Malley made crime one of his top issues as mayor, and many other big cities saw huge drops in murder rates and other crimes, while in Baltimore, the murder rate has dropped nowhere near as much as the mayor wanted. I think it's legitimate to ask whether different policing strategies, different levels and allocations of police resources and different leadership would have produced different results.

Lorraine Gimblett, Brooklyn Park: What's the deal with O'Malley saying that he is replacing "patronage politics," aka cronyism, when he is promoting his brother's CitiStat program in his speeches?

Nitkin: I'm not sure that the relationship you describe fits the definition of cronyism, but the more popular and acclaimed CitiStat becomes, the more it could benefit Peter O'Malley. The mayor set up the program of tracking statistics of municipal services and needs through a computerized database shortly after his election, modeling it after techniques used by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. His brother and top campaign adviser, Peter O'Malley, was hired to implement the program.

In May 2004, The Sun reported:

"To launch CitiStat, the mayor hired his brother and campaign manager, Peter O'Malley, in June 2000 to work with first deputy mayor Michael Enright and CompStat's creator, the late Jack Maple.

The mayor did not place Peter O'Malley on the city payroll. Instead, the mayor's office requested and received an Abell Foundation grant that paid his brother $77,000 over two years."

After that, Peter O'Malley left and became "co-founder and principal partner of GovStat, LLC," according to the corporation's Web site, to set up CitiStat-like programs in other places.

"Mr. O'Malley spearheaded the establishment of Baltimore City's acclaimed CitiStat program. As Special Assistant for CitiStat, he oversaw every aspect of its implementation from selecting appropriate personnel and identifying key indicators to designing a Stat room and determining the structure and tone of the meetings," the Web site says. "Mr. O'Malley's focus is on mapping analysis, meeting presentation and recruitment. He has a solid understanding of operations and spends time in the field in order to understand problems and fashion solutions."

In the 2004 story, The Sun reported that Peter O'Malley "says he is not getting rich off GovStat and that he and his GovStat partner, Andrew Boyd, have had four clients and less than $90,000 in revenues, before taxes, since starting it."

The numbers probably have changed since then.

Jeff, Baltimore: On Jan. 28, Baltimore City Police Commissioner [Leonard D.] Hamm attended a town meeting at Benjamin Franklin Junior High School, where he was asked why more Baltimore City police didn't live in the city. According to an article in The Sun ("Pushing back against crime," by Sara Neufeld), Hamm "replied that several officers have young children and can't afford to send them to private schools."

Hamm continued and was quoted directly saying, "As we work with the school system to get it better, then I think my officers will stay." Isn't Hamm in direct conflict with O'Malley's contention that the Baltimore City schools are among the most improved in the nation? Why would anyone who has children, but can't afford private school, want to live in or move into Baltimore City when the city's police department doesn't want to live there?

Nitkin: I believe the quality of schools in Baltimore is the most important factor in the decisions made by families on whether to live in the city or not.

Steele
Bryan, Olney: David, this is my first question on here. A long time ago, you promised us a follow-up story on the theft of Steele's identity, but as of yet, there have been no follow-up stories on the topic. Should we expect one? Also, are you actively looking into the MD4Bush story as political editor as much as you say you are on these Q&As?

Nitkin: I'm not sure I've promised anything. What I've said repeatedly is that we will report political news when we get it. A follow-up story on the Steele situation would be whether criminal charges have been brought against the two former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee workers who used Steele's Social Security Number -- which they got through public records -- to get a copy of his credit report, which would be illegal. We don't know yet whether criminal charges have been filed. On MD4Bush, I have said we would love to know the identity of the Internet user, and will publish it when we find out.

Bryan, Olney: OK, make this my second question. Brown gets to decide his racial makeup, but all Steele did was "bring the color of his skin" to the table? What's with the double standards?

Nitkin: There is no double standard. How can anyone compare what I, a political editor and writer, wrote in a Q&A here in answering a question on how we should refer to Brown's race in news stories; and the position of the editorial board, which was referring to Steele's accomplishments and background in an endorsement editorial nearly four years ago? I don't see any connection.

Duncan
George, Baltimore: Since O'Malley announced his running mate, Duncan is being awful quiet. I am starting to think Duncan is changing his mind. I hope he stays in the race, but who is going to [be] a good running mate for his ticket? He is a great choice for governor.