Mayor Martin O'Malley has launched a full-blown campaign to get acting Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris confirmed, sending 8,000 letters to residents urging them to call their council members.
Another 20,000 letters are expected to be mailed before Norris' confirmation hearing May 2.
Although some council members are unhappy with the mailings, early returns show that the campaign -- which has cost taxpayers $3,500 -- is working.
Hundreds of calls have flooded council offices since the letters went out last week in an effort targeting the city's most active voters: senior citizens.
"My mother got a letter, and she called me," said West Baltimore Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. "So the mayor can mark her down as on board for Norris."
The campaign has prompted Southeast Baltimore Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. to complain to the mayor. D'Adamo called the effort "overkill," because O'Malley appears to have the 10-vote majority necessary to confirm Norris, who was nominated by the mayor April 4 after the resignation of Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel.
"I spent two hours this morning returning 63 phone calls," D'Adamo said Friday. "I never saw it as a close vote."
Others on the 19-member council said they would have liked advance warning about the campaign.
"Our staff is just inundated. It really has been a burden," said Northwest Baltimore Councilwoman Helen Holton. "What would have been nice is if he communicated with us that he was planning to do it."
O'Malley defended the mailings and expense Friday, saying that the funds were paid out of the mayor's discretionary budget.
The mayor sees the letter-writing effort -- and Norris' confirmation -- as critical to implementing his crime-fighting plan.
"There is nothing more important," O'Malley said. "We're not going to rest until the homicides subside."
The campaign mirrors a popular O'Malley effort last winter in which his office used voter lists to contact senior citizens in the city to make sure they were all right during a snowstorm. Council members said most of the letter recipients calling them were seniors.
The council has set the Norris confirmation hearing for 5 p.m. May 2. Two community forums on the Norris nomination will be held by the council this week. The first will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday at City College, 3220 The Alameda. The second will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at Douglass High School, 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway.
Council members reported that almost all the calls they received were in support of giving Norris a chance.
Millie Tyssowski of the Baltimore City League of Women Voters said, "It was unusual to have the mayor ask us to lobby."
Tyssowski, who plans to attend one of the forums on Norris, added, "I do think we're losing a lot of time, so I'm sort of sympathetic."
Turning the tables
D'Adamo said he plans to turn the tables on O'Malley, urging constituents to call the mayor's office to support retaining Recreation and Parks Director Thomas Overton.
"The good thing about it is that I got to wish my constituents a happy Easter," D'Adamo said.