O'Malley is our choice for Baltimore's mayor; Challenge: Democratic councilman must revitalize City Hall with new blood, bold strategies.


MARTIN O'MALLEY is The Sun's choice for the next mayor of Baltimore. His eight years as a city councilman, combined with his earlier experience as a criminal prosecutor, are needed if the city is to begin a long-overdue economic recovery.

"If we combat drugs, if we fight disease, if we counter neighborhood deterioration, if we improve our schools, we will see economic prosperity in Baltimore again," Mr. O'Malley promised in his platform that calls for zero-tolerance policing.

Some critics have attacked the O'Malley priorities as too narrow. Yet Democratic primary voters overwhelmingly supported his agenda. They, too, believe Baltimore's turnaround must begin with an assault on all forms of lawlessness that are bleeding the city's economy, destroying its neighborhoods and tearing apart its social fabric.

By slashing high numbers of homicides and other violent crimes, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston have been able to reverse their decline. Those cities are thriving. Jobs are being created; housing demand is great.

Baltimore, in contrast, is still backsliding. In each of the past nine years, the homicide toll has remained above 300. Open-air drug markets operate with impunity; one of eight adults is believed addicted to heroin or cocaine. Property and nuisance crimes are rampant. Not surprisingly, about 1,000 Baltimoreans vote with their feet each month by moving to surrounding counties. They leave behind a city of abandoned homes. Good jobs migrate with them.

David F. Tufaro, the Republican mayoral candidate, has also put forward a comprehensive plan to turn Baltimore around. But we believe Mr. O'Malley is in a better position to produce results quickly after Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's 12-year administration ends on Dec. 8. Mr. O'Malley already knows the ins and outs of municipal government. As a Democrat, he will have an easier time dealing with the 18-member City Council and its new president.

For a political novice who was virtually unknown a few months ago, Mr. Tufaro has done extraordinarily well. He shed his initial awkwardness in public appearances and became a thoughtful, self-assured exponent of interesting ideas. His issue-oriented campaign forced Mr. O'Malley to be specific about his proposals.

Mr. Tufaro's campaign has done much to rejuvenate the city's puny GOP, which in the recent past has too often presented weak and inert mayoral candidates for the voters' consideration. His true grit, though, will be tested after the Nov. 2 general election. He clearly has much to offer Baltimore and should establish a vocal public role for himself. This city could use his ideas and leadership.

In fact, Mr. O'Malley, the putative winner in this city, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-1, ought to consider appointing Mr. Tufaro to the planning commission or other municipal board, where attracting GOP representation is often difficult.

For the first time in the city's more than two centuries of self-rule, the two parties' mayoral candidates are not native Baltimoreans. In that, they are like a growing number of Baltimoreans.

Mr. O'Malley was raised in Montgomery County and went to high school and Catholic University in Washington. He got his law degree from the University of Maryland.

Mr. Tufaro was born and reared in New York. He went to Yale University and got a degree in law and planning from the University of Pennsylvania.

This lack of entrenched roots should give the next mayor much-needed detachment. He can ignore petty political parochialism and geographic rivalries and draw the best of Baltimore into his administration. That is important: The new City Hall must strive for true ethnic, religious and philosophical inclusiveness. It is the only way a white mayor can forge the coalitions he will need to govern effectively in a city with an African- American majority.

A promising sign is Mr. O'Mal- ley's selection of Anana Kambon as coordinator of his transition team -- along with Laurie Schwartz of the Downtown Partnership. Although the appointment of a little-known activist was initially greeted with some puzzlement, she is exactly the kind of resource spotter the next administration needs. The new mayor, if he wants to be successful, must fill key positions with his own people. If he is lucky, he will discover new talent so he does not depend too heavily on political retreads.

In 1971, when William Donald Schaefer began assembling his first mayoral administration, he had the advantage of a city where viable civic organizations were far more numerous than they are today. In general, more people were willing to heed the call for voluntarism so eloquently made years earlier by President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address.

By the time Mr. Schmoke was elected mayor in 1987, the climate had changed. Instead of a spirit of service, many people were preoccupied with "Being Number One," as a popular book put it.

The unprecedented economic boom of recent years has made it even more difficult to draw gifted people to public service. The young, in particular, will be attracted to relatively low-paying jobs only if the next mayor can make it clear that public service has genuine future value. That's why it is vital for the general election winner to project a purposeful dynamism from his first day in office.

Among the new administration's hallmarks must be predictability of actions and policy direction. Nothing will damage the next mayor more quickly than hesitation, petulant outbursts and zigzagging. Baltimore citizens, the business community and potential investors will look for consistency from City Hall. They want assurances that the new mayor is true to his word. All those constituencies will make allowances for inexperience. But they won't tolerate waffling or broken promises. They want a forward-looking administration not held hostage by nostalgia.

A change of administrations is always an exciting moment. Past animosities are erased, hostilities forgotten. Under fresh leadership, the previously unthinkable suddenly becomes possible, bold initiatives can be launched, novel approaches tested.

In his primary victory, Mr. O'Malley was fortunate to garner such overwhelming electoral support that no one could question the will of the people. Voters voiced their demand for change, beginning with a resolute attack on crime.

Much is now expected from Mr. O'Malley. He has to quickly learn to master areas for which he has shown scant interest in the past -- from housing and planning issues to the complexities of education.

In endorsing Martin O'Malley for mayor, we are optimistic he will be equal to the formidable task.

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