Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is expected to officially join Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic nomination for 2016 president on Saturday. O’Malley will be an intriguing challenger to both of the current candidates. According to the Baltimore Sun, his views on social issues are more progressive than Clinton — he sponsored a same-sex marriage bill, signed a marijuana decriminalization bill and has opposed the Iraq War. He’s also more aligned with traditionalist Democratic values than the independent Sanders, which could make him a more attractive candidate amongst the general voting population.
O’Malley’s campaign, however, will have one key setback: his entire political career has been tied to Maryland, and, more specifically, Baltimore. The protests in response to the death of Freddie Gray last month caused Baltimore residents to re-examine the legacy O’Malley left in the city during his tenure as mayor. David Simon, creator of Baltimore-based HBO show The Wire, blamed O’Malley for problems with the Baltimore Police Department.
“The drug war began it, certainly, but the stake through the heart of police procedure in Baltimore was Martin O’Malley. He destroyed police work in some real respects,” Simon said in an interview with the Marshall Project. “Whatever was left of it when he took over the police department, if there were two bricks together that were the suggestion of an edifice that you could have called meaningful police work, he found a way to pull them apart.”
Prior to the Baltimore riots, O’Malley had been viewed as an innovator of effective, data-driven police work and city management. As NPR reports, O’Malley launched a program as mayor called CitiStat that was based on the NYPD’s Compstat program. The data-driven, zero-tolerance approach to police work helped quickly reduce crime and murder rates in Baltimore. Analytics helped with other issues, as well. “We brought crime down by 43 percent. We reduced the number of children poisoned by lead in our city by 71 percent,” O’Malley said recently.
Simon, of course, claimed that these statistics were a false representation of what was actually happening in Baltimore. The city’s crime and murder rates were going down because the Baltimore Police Department was sweeping the streets, making mass arrests for petty or false crimes. “Schoolteachers, Johns Hopkins employees, film crew people, kids, retirees, everybody went to city jail,” Simon said. “If you think I’m exaggerating look it up. It was an amazing performance by the city’s mayor and his administration.” According to the Washington Post, the number of arrests drastically rose during O’Malley’s time as mayor — with 108,447 arrests (one-sixth of Baltimore’s population) in 2005.
Support for police reform, of course, is not confined to Baltimore. It’s a major national issue that continues surfacing every time another instance of racially-charged abuse or brutality is reported. It’s been addressed repeatedly by President Obama, and the U.S. Justice Department has even launched a civil rights investigation into the Baltimore Police Department. If O’Malley wants to be president, he will be forced to deal with the issue of crime and policing around the country. He’ll also be forced to reckon with his past.
Many will inevitably defend O’Malley for his ability to — at least on paper — reduce crime rates and make other key reforms in Baltimore. Perhaps its because the issue has risen to national prominence, but O’Malley himself has also been speaking out against the injustices of police forces around the country. “We have been seeing far too many tragic videos of police-involved deaths in our country,” O’Malley said, according to the Washington Post. “We have to make all our institutions more open and transparent.” He continues defending his ability to reduce the crime rate in Baltimore.
At least O’Malley has at least been involved with police reform at an active level, even if that involvement was catastrophic. His presence in the Democratic primary will hopefully bring those issues to the forefront and force candidates like Clinton and Sanders to respond. He’ll also present progressive views that could challenge Clinton’s current frontrunning status. Even David Simon would be willing to forgive O’Malley’s missteps as mayor if he makes it past Clinton. “Hey, if he’s the Democratic nominee, I’m going to end up voting for him,” Simon said.
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