As Mayor Martin O'Malley declared yesterday that all secondary roads would be passable by today, community leaders gave mixed reviews to the city's snow-removal efforts - from tempered praise to outright hostility.
"We are extremely dissatisfied because our street has not been plowed or salted," said Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, president of the North Bolton Hill Association. "I think it's a good thing for the mayor that elections are not held in February, because if the elections were held today, I don't think he'd be too popular."
Many city residents said snow removal is unlikely to trump issues such as crime and education in voters' minds come Election Day next year. But for now, plows, salt and congested streets are all anyone can talk about.
Many neighborhood groups praised the mayor's office for calling thousands of senior citizens to offer aid. Others complained that nearly half of the city's plows had broken down.
"I won't be satisfied until every side street is passable," O'Malley said last night. "It's a colossal undertaking, and we are by no means done. We will be working 12-hour shifts. ... But some side streets are blocked by abandoned vehicles."
Many neighborhood groups resorted to organizing "digouts" or pooling their money to rent equipment.
Kirsten Sandberg, president of the Federal Hill South Neighborhood Association, called Hertz Equipment Rental on O'Donnell Street. But the store had rented its 50 pieces of equipment - plows, backloaders, dump trucks - and had a long waiting list.
Georgine Edgerton, president of the Mount Holly Improvement Association in West Baltimore, said most of her neighbors have been pleased with the city's performance.
"I got a call from the mayor's office, and my neighbors got calls, too," said Edgerton, 77. "People are really pleased to know that someone cares about the seniors. ... And seniors vote."
Since the snow started falling, the mayor's office has called 25,414 senior citizens, said Raquel Guillory, an O'Malley spokeswoman. The city delivered food, toilet paper and other goods to 640 people.
But some neighborhood leaders were disappointed.
Anne T. Haley, president of the North Roland Park Association, said she was appalled by the breakdowns of city plows. She said Baltimore County did a much better job of removing snow.
"I am very disappointed by the way the city handled the situation," Haley said. "The buck stops at the mayor's office. ... I think the city responded better in [the blizzard] of 1996. I don't believe the city was paralyzed this long back then."
O'Malley said removal has been slower than in suburban areas because the city is more densely packed, "and we don't have the luxury of just shoving the snow into some corn field somewhere."
The city also has more aging plows that are breaking down - almost half its 180 plows were out of service at one point this week - because the transportation office lacks funds, according to O'Malley. The city hired private contractors and replaced the broken trucks with equipment from the state and the Maryland National Guard.
"Why do our trucks break down? That is a direct result of the underfunding of our department of transportation by the state government," O'Malley said.
Victoria Bruns and some of her neighbors on Winans Way in West Baltimore were angry at what they saw as preferential treatment of a city official. On Tuesday, a city plow cleared part of the street in front of City Council President Sheila Dixon's house. Later, city workers shoveled Dixon's walk and driveway. "Why does she get special treatment?" asked Bruns, 43.
O'Malley said he ordered Dixon's street cleared so she could attend a Board of Estimates meeting Wednesday. Dixon said she was annoyed that the plow had buried her walkway and neglected half the block.
She called Alfred H. Foxx, director of the city's Office of Transportation, and "cussed" him, she said, asking that the rest of the block be cleared.
Dixon's spokeswoman said that administrations dating back at least to the 1940s have used city plows to clear roads near the homes of officials so they could attend meetings.
However, some City Council members complained that their roads weren't cleared.