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Why Baltimore’s Federal Hill Park Is an Appropriate Place for Martin O’Malley to Announce for President

Posted: May 30, 2015 at 3:52 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Mark Uncapher

markUncaphernewThis past weekend former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced for President at Federal Hill Park in Baltimore.

In the age of social media, his tax and spend legacy can be summed up in the length of a tweet:  “Under O’Malley, MD State spending between 2006 & 2014 grew by 41%, while personal income grew only by 26%.” Also, “under O’Malley, Maryland’s ‘business climate’ rating dropped dramatically to the fourth worst state in the nation.”

Certainly the unrest that Baltimore has experienced serves as another reminder of O’Malley’s failures.  He promised to make crime reduction his top priority when first elected Mayor in 1999.  Yet Baltimore has consistently lagged behind other major cities in this regard.  Although roughly the same size in population as Washington DC, last year Baltimore has more than twice as many murders. Relative to its population size, Baltimore has 10 times as many murders New York City.

But there is more.

If press releases, speeches and grandiose promises alone were enough produce a cleaner environment, then the O’Malley would certainly qualify as an environmentalist.  The raw sewage that continues to pour into Baltimore Harbor tells a different story about his environmental record.

Thirteen years ago then Mayor O’Malley settled a lawsuit by the EPA against Baltimore City. The EPA charged the City with illegally dumping over many years some 110 million gallons of wastewater containing raw sewage from city’s sewer system, resulting “elevated levels of coliform bacteria.” As the EPA complaint dryly noted, “Organisms in untreated wastewater containing raw sewage can cause a number of diseases in users of contaminated areas. These diseases include, but are not limited to, enteric diseases such as gastroenteritis, dysentery, and cholera. These diseases are highly communicable.”

So rather than face fines and further legal action, O’Malley signed a consent agreement on behalf of the City promising to address the problems, including making the necessary investment upgrades by 2016 to fix the sewer system and prevent further illegal discharges.  At the time, fourteen years probably seemed a very generous timetable.

How is Baltimore doing? Despite initially committing to spend an estimated billion dollars on clean-up investments, after a more than decade the city has spent far less.  Most of this spending has been limited to the analysis phase and design of a new system. So while O’Malley was Mayor for the first five years of the consent period, the record shows he utterly failed to create the necessary capital investment pipeline to address his city’s single most important environmental challenge.

Worse, Baltimore admits that between 2010 and 2012 it discharged than 7 million gallons of raw sewage directly into Baltimore’s streams and harbor. According to advocates, this number does not include millions of additional gallons of sewage spills from storm water outfalls and does not include sewage overflows that went undetected.

Baltimore has since managed to negotiate an extension to the original deadline 2016 to 2019, so the city will not begin facing penalties and fines during the middle of primary season.  However in preparation for O’Malley’s Presidential run, his handlers should refresh their collective memories with this 1988 Bush commercial highlighting Michael Dukakis’ Boston Harbor failures. (See: )

That was then. Twenty-seven years later, after significant clean-up investments, the EPA now calls the Boston Harbor a “great American jewel.” Harbor seals and porpoises are now common sights in the water. Baltimore and the entire Chesapeake region could have benefited from the same resolve.

O’Malley’s choice for his announcement seems remarkably appropriate to underscore his legacy of failure; Federal Hill Park is directly adjacent on two sides to Baltimore Harbor.  Democratic presidential primary voters (and others) take note, when it comes to making promises Martin O’Malley talks a good game, but fails to follow through.