Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley trumpeted his economic and law enforcement policies during a speech to the influential liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund on Thursday, while avoiding any mention of a Baltimore detention center controversy that has dogged his administration since April.
O’Malley, who is widely seen as a potential Democratic candidate for the 2016 presidential elections, came under fire after a federal indictment described massive corruption and mismanagement at a state-run Baltimore prison.
According to federal authorities, incarcerated members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang operated with impunity in the Baltimore City Detention Center, running street operations on cell phones smuggled in by corrupt corrections officers, building a robust drug trade behind bars, and impregnating several of the prison guards.
While O’Malley did not mention the controversy at the Thursday event, he did say his administration has "now driven violent crime to 30-year lows in our state."
He also touted his administration’s economic record.
"States with Republican governors generally tried to cut their way out of [the recession]," he said. "In Maryland, we made different choices and we made better choices."
These choices, said O’Malley, included a combination of budget cuts and targeted spending.
"We have cut, in Maryland, more spending than ever before in state history," said O’Malley, adding that his administration had combined this with "revenue"-boosting tax hikes and investments in job-creation and education.
O’Malley sought to strike a post-partisan tone, criticizing ideology-driven policy.
"The ideology of the past no longer serves the challenges of these rapidly changing times," he said. "We choose to move forward."
The Maryland governor could face a difficult path to the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, recent polls suggest. A Quinnipiac poll of Democrats in May found O’Malley polling at just one percent, potentially due to a lack of national name recognition.
The Baltimore prison scandal would be one of the most potent political attacks against O’Malley in a future political race, Maryland Republicans told the Washington Free Beacon in April.
Republicans have not been the only ones criticizing O’Malley over the prison issue. The Washington Post editorial board took him to task earlier this month for his role in enacting a 2010 "bill of rights" for prison guards.
The union-backed "bill of rights," which made it difficult to terminate corrupt or incompetent correctional officers, has been blamed for contributing to the culture of corruption that allowed gang members to seize control of the Baltimore detention center.
The latest prison scandal is similar to previous incidents in the Maryland prison system under O’Malley’s tenure.
Federal authorities arrested members of the Black Guerrilla Family and correctional officers in another racketeering probe in 2009, alleging that the imprisoned gang members operated an expansive outside drug ring, orchestrated attacks on rivals, and enlisted prison guards to help them smuggle in contraband.
O’Malley installed a task force to police corruption in the Maryland prisons in response to fallout from the recent scandal. The initiative has failed to quell criticism from state legislators, the Washington Post reported.