A spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon said yesterday that the mayor might announce a new police commissioner before the Sept. 11 primary, while critics accused her of politicizing the process and falling short of her promise to conduct a broad national search.
The mayor's search for a new commissioner came to the forefront Tuesday when The Sun reported that front-runners for the job include former Washington Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and the city's acting commissioner, Frederick H. Bealefeld.
"Two weeks before the election, and it is down to two people?" said City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who is running for mayor. "The citizens deserve the best police commissioner, and to hurry and try to select the commissioner before the election is just politics."
Mitchell accused the mayor of floating the names in the news media to score political points. He plans to hold a news conference at police headquarters today where, according to a statement from his campaign, he will "lay out the essential skills, qualities and experiences needed in Baltimore's next police commissioner."
With the city's homicides this year on track to match the numbers of the 1990s and public safety emerging as the key issue in the citywide primary, few were surprised that the search has become politically charged.
"It is very typical for a police chief selection process to be the catalyst for political banter and knife throwing and criticism," said Sheldon Greenberg, director of the Johns Hopkins University's Division of Public Safety Leadership. "It is very rare that you find a police chief process that doesn't involve upheaval and ... criticism, or political gnashing of the teeth."
Paul M. Blair Jr., the head of the city police union, an organization that has endorsed Mitchell, also denounced Dixon's search process yesterday, saying: "This nationwide search appears to have been extended only as far as Washington, D.C."
Anthony McCarthy, the mayor's spokesman, said that Dixon and her advisers have interviewed five to 10 candidates since July, when former Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm stepped down.
McCarthy noted that if a commissioner is named before the primary, the City Council would have to confirm the candidate.
"The field has definitely been narrowed," he said "Before the mayor makes any final decision, she's going to reach out to [State's Attorney Patricia C.] Jessamy and other people for advice."
He said Bealefeld was interviewed for the job yesterday. The acting commissioner declined, through a spokesman, to discuss the process.
During Ramsey's almost nine years in Washington, he oversaw significant reductions of crime in the nation's capital. He confirmed to The Sun this week that he wants the Baltimore job but declined to give details about the interview process.
McCarthy would not discuss details on a potential compensation package that the mayor will offer to whomever she selects as the new commissioner.
Hamm, Baltimore's previous commissioner, made $162,000 a year. Washington's current chief, Cathy L. Lanier, has a base salary of $175,000 a year, the same as Ramsey did when he was chief, said Sgt. Joseph Gentile, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington.