City Hall braces for brain drain

The Baltimore Sun

Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley has received national praise for transforming City Hall into a more efficient, businesslike operation -- primarily through a statistics-driven approach spearheaded by the CitiStat agency he created.

But when O'Malley is sworn into office in January in Annapolis, many of Baltimore's brightest are likely to shift into the nearly 7,000 state jobs he will control -- a brain drain that has played out before in Maryland politics.

A job in the new O'Malley administration is guaranteed for four years. Staying to serve Council President Sheila Dixon as she finishes the mayor's 11 months is less secure because she must campaign to keep the job in 2007.

"Sheila has an incredible ability to hire good talent; she won't have a problem finding good people," said Arthur Murphy, a partner at Democracy Group, an Annapolis-based political consulting firm. "But 11 months is 11 months -- meaning people will have to roll the dice."

Two decades ago, former Mayor William Donald Schaefer left Baltimore City Hall to become Maryland governor in January 1987, taking top city officials with him to fill such critical state departments as transportation and public safety. The council president, Clarence H. Du Burns, took over as mayor and acknowledged at the time that he was having a hard time persuading top officials to remain. (Jumping ship was probably a good decision, since Burns lost the election a year later to Kurt L. Schmoke.)

And when Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening became governor in 1995, he appointed many of his former county Cabinet officials to run major state agencies, including budget, state police and health.

Dixon said she has not seen the effects of O'Malley's impending move to Annapolis.

If Dixon's transition team is any indication, the council president appears to have secured some top officials to stay with her until at least early December 2007, when whoever wins the fall mayoral election will take over.

Otis Rolley III, the city's planning director, and Andrew Frank, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., are on Dixon's transition team.

Clarence T. Bishop, O'Malley's chief of staff and the transition liaison between the governor-elect and mayor-to-be, said it would be natural that some higher-level city officials would migrate to Annapolis, the private sector or to other government agencies and jurisdictions.

"It's an exciting time, but it's also an anxious time until people know where they're going to land," Bishop said.

Dixon's 19 years on the City Council -- the past seven as president and chairwoman of the city's spending board -- put her in a position to know how the city works and the people who could fill the most critical roles, he added.

Political analyst Murphy agreed: "There's a farm system out there. And I'm sure [O'Malley] will help her."

O'Malley said he will do all he can to assist the transition for Dixon, whom he dubbed his "partner in progress" when they ran for re-election in the most recent city races.

"I've worked with Council President Sheila Dixon for 15 years. She's an able and capable person, and she needs to continue the progress," O'Malley said. "We've laid a tremendous foundation and a government that is really performance measured and outcome oriented. That's what Sheila needs to do: to continue to make this city government stronger and better every day. So I think she's going to be fine."

O'Malley said the campaign has prevented him from sitting down with Dixon to devise strategies for a smooth transition but that he and his staff will work closely with her over the next two months.

Dixon said she is trying to maintain consistency at City Hall, and O'Malley aides say she has made a considerable effort to reach out to Cabinet members who head some of the city's largest departments: public works, transportation, finance, budget, fire and police.

When asked yesterday whether she would retain Leonard D. Hamm as police commissioner, Dixon repeated her desire for "consistency."

But two of O'Malley's closest advisers in the Police Department -- Deputy Commissioner Marcus Brown and Chief of Technical Services Kristen Mahoney -- would be likely candidates for the governor-elect's new administration, insiders speculate.

One threat to Dixon's desire for consistency is that many of O'Malley's top officials may want to move on to state jobs to avoid what will be a tough city election so quickly after the grueling battle with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

However, as O'Malley pledged during the campaign to staff his administration in a diverse way -- including geographically -- it's clear that not everyone from the city will leave, and O'Malley's transition head, Lt. Gov.-elect Anthony G. Brown, will likely draw from allies in Prince George's county.

The assumption is that O'Malley's tight inner circle will definitely be pulling up stakes: First Deputy Mayor Michael Enright, who has been O'Malley's friend since high school; Labor Commissioner Sean R. Malone, who managed O'Malley's 1995 council re-election campaign; City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler, who is heading up the transition team and was a longtime deputy to O'Malley's father-in-law, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.; Communications Director Steve Kearney; Deputy Mayor Jeanne Hitchcock; and Bishop.

Another problem for Dixon is that O'Malley promised to replicate his acclaimed CitiStat accountability system in state agencies. Since no other Maryland jurisdiction has a comparable system, CitiStat officials could be on his recruitment shortlist.

At the top is Matthew D. Gallagher, CitiStat's director. The Baltimore native and former deputy mayor in Philadelphia has developed the agency into a farm league for city leaders.

Many of city government's rising stars got their start learning CitiStat's analysis of statistics to spot troubles before they balloon into crises. Some of the former and current "CitiStat-ers," as they're known, include: Jay Sakai, head of the bureau of water and wastewater; Leif Dormsjo, chief of staff for transportation; Andrew Lauland, the mayor's homeland security adviser and a CitiStat deputy; and Christopher Thomaskutty, another deputy who headed up rooting out waste in the city school system.

But Peter O'Malley, an architect of his older brother's re-election victory who helped build the CitiStat system in 2000, is not expected to take a state job.

As the governor-elect, O'Malley has a stake in ensuring that Dixon continues the course the city has made under his administration.

"I'm certainly going to do everything in my power to make her the best mayor she can be," O'Malley said.

Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.

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