In his first major decision since winning the city's Democratic mayoral primary, City Councilman Martin J. O'Malley has selected Downtown Partnership President Laurie Schwartz to coordinate his government transition team.
O'Malley, who faces a Nov. 2 general election against Republican challenger David F. Tufaro said he selected Schwartz for her government and community planning experience.
Her selection immediately raised gripes from Tufaro and city neighborhood advocates that O'Malley will focus his attention on downtown and the Inner Harbor.
Schwartz was a community planner in the administration of former Mayor William Donald Schaefer.
During the tumultuous Democratic primary, neighborhood groups called for city leaders to turn their efforts away from the Inner Harbor and downtown to ailing neighborhoods. O'Malley's naming of Schwartz has heightened those concerns.
"It's definitely choosing which direction he's going to go," said Brendan Walsh, operator of the Viva House soup kitchen in West Baltimore. "It seems to be against what he ran on."
O'Malley dismissed the criticism, saying Schwartz's knowledge of the city gives her the ability to deal with all areas.
O'Malley also named community activist Anana Kambon to help coordinate the transition.
"The reason I asked Laurie to do it was because of her contacts with business," O'Malley said. "The reason I asked Anana to do it was because of her contacts with neighborhood groups. You have to have both."
Neighborhood leaders welcomed the news that Kambon would also serve in aiding a transition.
"That adds a different dynamic," Odette Ramos, one of the founders of the newly established Neighborhood Congress, said of Kambon's addition. "Certainly, the campaign issue has been surrounding neighborhoods, and we want to make sure [the transition] is consistent."
Schwartz, 47, has been active in the last two city administrations. The Buffalo, N.Y., native arrived in Baltimore in 1973 and graduated from the University of Maryland's School of Social Work and Community Planning.
She joined the Schaefer administration in the housing department, working six years as a community planner.
Schaefer then tapped her to lead the Downtown Partnership, which had been called Charles Street Management Corp. Schwartz has since been in charge of a 200-square-block area bordered by Key Highway, the Jones Falls Expressway, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and North Avenue.
The 400 partnership members pay $400 to $15,000 in annual dues that help provide services such as cleaning and police protection. Schwartz has been lauded by supporters for being one of the city's most tenacious cheerleaders and was voted one of the Baltimoreans of the Year in 1997 by Baltimore magazine.
"Good lady," said city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III of Schwartz. "She has a good head on her shoulders. [O'Malley] will be served well."
With two months to go before Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke steps down after 12 years in office, O'Malley is trying to piece together the city's first new government since 1987. Though Schwartz is coordinating the transition, O'Malley will have to form a transition team to help him select Cabinet members and lay out administration policy.
O'Malley acknowledged that naming Schwartz might seem presumptuous, because he must first win the general election, but the short time between the election and inauguration warrants the move, he said.
Schwartz has taken a leave of absence from the partnership and welcomed the opportunity to serve O'Malley, adding that she has not worked with the Northeast Baltimore councilman.
"It's a real opportunity for me to help," Schwartz said. "People who know me know that I deeply care about the city."
Though O'Malley said he has not officially selected his transition team, one man expected to figure prominently is state Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
When asked about his role in an O'Malley transition, Rawlings said, "That decision is up to Mr. O'Malley."
Tufaro, who said he has not begun forming a transition team, lauded Schwartz but criticized O'Malley for tapping a downtown administrator.
"Laurie is a very capable individual and dedicated to the city," Tufaro said. "But her constituency is the downtown."
GOP strategist Carol Hirschburg, who is aiding Tufaro, took offense at O'Malley's selection, noting that the results of the general election could alter his plans.
"That's if he has a transition team," Hirschburg said of O'Malley.