This Time, O'Malley Takes a Patient Approach

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Whatever else one sees in Martin O'Malley as he is sworn in today as Maryland's 61st governor, he is a politician markedly different from the brash 36-year-old who took the reins of an ailing Baltimore just over seven years ago.

The word "impatient" was affixed to the young mayor as he railed against those who he felt were moving too slowly to eradicate his city's open-air drug markets and fight its stubborn homicide rate. There was little time to dwell on niceties or missteps, such as O'Malley's choice of a police commissioner, whose hiring he called "the biggest decision I've ever made in my life" but who resigned 57 days later.

Today, O'Malley (D) will step to the podium outside the State House in Annapolis having made only seven of his 20 Cabinet appointments during what even some of his allies acknowledge has been a painfully deliberate transition process.

He arrives having all but decided to delay action on some of the biggest issues facing the state -- most notably a recurring budget imbalance -- until the second year of his term to allow time to build consensus.

And O'Malley, 43, has so far mostly resisted myriad calls to champion initiatives stymied during four years of Maryland government bitterly divided between Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the heavily Democratic legislature. "The most important thing we need to do in Annapolis is reestablish mutual respect for one another, regardless of our differences," O'Malley said in an interview. "We could waste an entire session talking about the issues where there's a tremendous amount of division, or we could focus on getting things done again."

Whether O'Malley's cautious approach -- he dubbed it "prudence" -- ultimately serves him well remains to be seen. But he is following a very different model than others recently new to power.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), for example, arrived with a "100 hours" agenda, including an increase in the federal minimum wage, as Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives this month. And D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) took office having assembled a list of 200 goals for his first 100 days.

Aides said O'Malley will start to flesh out his agenda in his inaugural address today, in the release of his first budget this week and in his first State of the State address Jan. 31. He has made no secret about some priorities, including spending a record $400 million on school construction next year and holding the line on college tuition.

Even before O'Malley takes the oath of office, some in Annapolis are questioning whether he will take advantage of a honeymoon period typically afforded new chief executives. "If you play not to win, but just to stay in the game, that's a failure," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who has criticized the pace of O'Malley's transition. "It's not what John F. Kennedy did, and it's not what Lyndon Johnson did. Leaders lead. When you have a window of opportunity, you move forward."

Others have suggested that O'Malley will benefit in the long run by building goodwill and relationships he can trade upon later in his four-year term.

Moreover, allies say, the move to Annapolis is a far different challenge than what O'Malley faced in 1999, when he became Baltimore's mayor after two terms on the City Council there.

"To be a mayor of that city required putting your foot on the pedal and never letting up," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore). "He had to wake up a sleeping bureaucracy. . . . He's now becoming governor of the third-wealthiest state in the country. He has more time to look at issues in a deliberate manner. He can take his time and get it right."

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