BALTIMORE – Mayor Martin O'Malley (search) likened the cuts in President Bush's budget proposal for urban areas to the Sept. 11 (search) attacks, drawing fire from his fellow Democrats as well as Republicans.
Also Tuesday, O'Malley accused Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich's (search) administration of spreading false rumors that he had an extramarital affair, prompting the governor to force out a longtime employee who discussed the rumors on a popular conservative Web site.
The mayor, who is weighing a bid for governor in 2006 and is considered a rising star within the Democratic Party, was among a group of mayors and other local officials who held a news conference Tuesday in Washington to criticize the president's proposal to cut spending for community development programs by $2 billion.
"Back on September 11, terrorists attacked our metropolitan cores, two of America's great cities. They did that because they knew that was where they could do the most damage and weaken us the most," O'Malley said. "Years later, we are given a budget proposal by our commander in chief, the president of the United States. And with a budget ax, he is attacking America's cities. He is attacking our metropolitan core."
Montgomery County, Md., Executive Douglas M. Duncan said O'Malley "went way too far."
"The president of the United States is fighting terrorism. It hurts our cause when people say things like that," said Duncan, who like O'Malley is expected to seek the Democratic nomination in the 2006 race against Ehrlich.
Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams, also a Democrat and president of the National League of Cities (search), said he disagreed with "the harsh language that was used."
O'Malley told The Washington Post he didn't intend to equate the proposed budget cuts to a terrorist attack.
"The point I am trying to make is, for America to be strong, we have to strengthen our cities. Because we're in the middle of a war, we need to be strengthening and protecting our cities, not weakening our cities," he said.
O'Malley has been tapped by party leaders on several occasions to speak out on behalf of cities. He was a keynote speaker at the Democratic convention in Boston last year and was an early and open critic of the Bush administration's assistance to cities for homeland security.
At one John Kerry presidential campaign event last year O'Malley said he was more worried about the Bush administration's policies than he was about Al Qaeda (search).
After his comments about the budget, O'Malley said he believes the widespread rumors that he has had an affair were part of a "concerted and orchestrated and sustained" effort. Speaking publicly about the rumors for the first time, he called on the governor to apologize to his wife of 14 years and their four children.
The mayor said he thought the rumors were spread to thwart his gubernatorial ambitions. He said he learned about 18 months ago of a story that he had fathered a child with a television news reporter and separated from his wife.
Ehrlich asked for and received the resignation of Joseph Steffen, who confirmed Tuesday that he had discussed the rumor on the conservative Web site FreeRepublic.com and in private e-mails, which were given to The Washington Post.
Steffen, a spokesman for the Maryland Insurance Administration (search) and had held a series of jobs in Ehrlich's administration, told The (Baltimore) Sun: "The governor had no idea. I don't even think he knows where the Web site is. If anyone is guilty, it is me. There was no outside influence."
Steffen discussed the rumors on FreeRepublic.com last summer. He posted them under the name NCPAC, a reference to one of his early employers, the National Conservative Political Action Committee (search).