BALTIMORE – Traditionally, the neighborhood barbershop has been the place where men would gather to tell stories, trade gossip and swap rumors about what may be going on around town.
Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich brought his campaign to a barbershop in Northwest Baltimore and quickly found himself fitting in with local tradition as patrons related stories of a supposed murder wave that they say has gone unreported by the Baltimore City Police Department.
While Ehrlich said he had not heard the specifics of the unreported-murder rumor, he vowed to have his personal lawyer, Jervis Finney, contact Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy office to investigate the rumors.
“I can ask for an answer, but I cannot promise you you’re going to receive an answer,” he said over the soft background buzz of an electric razor. “I can promise you that my lawyers will work… to get you the answers to your questions.”
Left unmentioned was the happy coincidence that Ehrlich himself has been slamming O’Malley for what the governor says are unreliable crime statistics in Baltimore that make it look as though O’Malley’s police have a much better handle on crime than they actually do.
Later, outside the Park Heights Avenue barbershop near Pimlico Race Course, a handful of women let it be known that whatever the men inside might be saying, they weren’t buying what the governor was selling.
“After this election’s over you won’t see him,”said Denise Thomas, 44, a Park Heights resident who listened to Ehrlich through a thick ring of reporters. “He’ll probably never come back here in his life.”
Ehrlich had come to Park Heights to contrast his record on crime with O’Malley’s.
He noted that the mayor had appointed seven police commissioners in seven years and had failed to lower the murder rate to less than 175 per year. He slammed the mayor for sanctioning a police department that Ehrlich said makes scores of arrests without ever bringing subsequent charges.
And then there was the matter on those “unreliable” crime statistics he said the mayor was floating, even as Ehrlich himself took credit for reducing violent crime by 9.3 percent statewide.
“I’m tired of the whining,” Ehrlich said of O’Malley. “The mayor’s been so busy trying to take my job he hasn’t done his job.”
O’Malley’s campaign could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Greg Massoni, the governor’s deputy press secretary, said Ehrlich selected the location “from stories that were on T.V. [Monday] night” about rising crime rates in the Park Heights area.
The barbershop where Ehrlich greeted customers was featured prominently last month in a Baltimore Sun story that debunked the rumors as unsubstantiated.
Ehrlich said he would look into the rumors, but shopped short of a full commitment to solving the mystery.
“I expect I won’t get an answer until after the election,” Ehrlich said. “It is city government’s responsibility to answer your concern.”
Ehrlich appeared with running mate Kristen Cox and had several vocal supporters in the crowd. The Rev. Frankie Powell, a local pastor, spoke at the podium and called on the city to “stop fudging the numbers and take crime seriously.”
“Here the Democratic Party has always said that if you vote for me, then I’ll take care of you,” Powell said. “The Democratic Party [hasn’t done] a thing for the black community or Park Heights Avenue.”
Ehrlich also received endorsements from John “Rodney” Bartlett, president of the Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police, and Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway, who said that O’Malley’s administration has been “lying about violent crime figures in Baltimore City.” “He’s been caught cooking the figures,” said Conaway, who, though a Democrat, has not been particularly friendly to O’Malley over the years.