Daniel pick smells of payback, pettiness


AT THE END of the day of Ron Daniel's resignation as police commissioner, this is what the mayor of Baltimore had -- a white deputy commissioner from New York City, former home of Amadou Diallo, running the show on Fayette Street, and the perception that Martin O'Malley's first and most important appointment was a bad one.

Those are two things O'Malley did not want in his first 116 days in office, but there you go. O'Malley suddenly looks like he's taking personnel management tips from Peter Angelos.

Here's the worst part: Without saying a word -- by simply walking out of police headquarters at 601 E. Fayette St. -- Daniel sent the message that Baltimore's mayor and Baltimore's Police Department are about to make changes with which a veteran police professional, native son and proud African-American could not live. Something wicked this way coming.

Of course, there are many other likely reasons for Daniel's departure.

For instance:

He probably resented the influence of the New York Boys, though he should have seen the Big Apple coming back when O'Malley first talked to him about the job.

Despite having been given a free hand to purge enemies and promote friends, Daniel might have felt that he'd been turned into a powerless figurehead.

Or it might be that the man was a plodding police bureaucrat who just could not do things at O'Malley-like speed. Maybe he came to see in O'Malley what a lot of people see -- a young man in a hurry, a little too cocksure about everything, especially criminal justice, and too frequently shooting from the lip. Maybe Daniel had had enough of O'Malley's impatience and wisecracks.

It's wholly possible -- even likely -- that Daniel's abrupt departure had nothing to do with the ethics of New York-style zero-tolerance policing.

But that's what he suggests with his silence -- that it will soon be open season on any Baltimore citizen who stands on a street corner.

That's what a lot of people will be inclined to believe.

That's what O'Malley had to deal with at his afternoon news conference in City Hall.

He tried, with polish and calm, to suggest otherwise: that he and Daniel parted ways not over any ethical issues, but because Daniel could not implement changes suggested by the New York Boys fast enough, and that this 57-day commissioner, despite his reputation for being a rebel, was too ensconced in the old ways. He and Daniel couldn't get along. There was friction. O'Malley said Daniel was a "complex" guy, which is a way of one man calling another a pain in the neck.

Yesterday, O'Malley surrounded himself with white and black members of the City Council and the Police Department. That wasn't some phony-baloney casting call. That was the real thing. O'Malley has been careful to build a vital biracial coalition. But it underscored the obvious: Martin O'Malley has the first crisis of his young administration -- how to replace a black commissioner while still allowing plenty of room for the dramatic changes and reforms suggested by the New York Boys, who are all white and from a city that has made international headlines because of the police shootings of Amadou Diallo and others.

That's a mouthful. But that's where O'Malley is today.

He can thank Ron Daniel for that -- and himself.

The Daniel appointment, while looking sound, smelled of political payback from the start -- O'Malley getting back at the Schmoke-Frazier regime.

O'Malley despised former Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier from the time of their squabble over statistics on the number of shootings in the city. Frazier reported that shootings dropped "nearly 60 percent" between 1993 and 1997. O'Malley called that a "massive hoax," made much political hay out of the dispute and established himself -- along with his former pal, Lawrence Bell -- as a man on a mission to stem Baltimore's hellish crime rate.

It started nasty and got nastier.

O'Malley called Frazier a liar, essentially, and accused him of trying to thwart his investigation into the shooting stats.

(In the end, an official audit showed police overstated the drop in city gun violence, but it failed to support O'Malley's allegations that the misrepresentation was deliberate. Political perception: Much ado about little, and a moderate-sized coup for O'Malley, who came off as the great truth-teller about crime.)

Add to that all the heat Frazier took over racial discrimination in the department, and the exiling of Daniel to the mayor's office after he accused Frazier of being a racist, and O'Malley's constant ridiculing of how Frazier's regime attacked crime -- and you have a ledger long with bitterness and scorn.

After his fall election victory, O'Malley betrayed a tendency toward petty politics. "Sic semper tyrannis," was his cryptic send-off to Frazier. ("Thus always to tyrants," which is what John Wilkes Booth reportedly said after shooting Abraham Lincoln.)

And then, despite warnings from people he probably should have listened to (Pete Rawlings among them), O'Malley hastily named Daniel police commissioner -- the same guy who had called Frazier a racist and who had been exiled to City Hall by former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. He might have been the right man for the job -- "a real cop's cop," one narcotics officer said yesterday, echoing many others -- but his appointment smelled of payback and pettiness.

Well, that worked out swell, didn't it?

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