Category: Archive

Echo Profile: The long march

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Martin O’Malley doesn’t need Mapquest to find his way from Baltimore to Annapolis.
Leave the former, head more or less due south and you can’t miss the latter.
What he does need, however, is votes.
O’Malley, the musical mayor of Baltimore, is charging hard in the race for governor of Maryland.
Politically speaking, it’s his longest march yet. And polls suggest he’s in with more than a fighting chance of reaching his destination, Maryland’s state capital.
If he does, it will be due to a big round of applause from voters, one far louder than he has ever heard in fronting his Celtic rock band, O’Malley’s March.
Taking on the mayor’s job in Maryland’s largest city was not a task for the squeamish back in 1999, the year that O’Malley came knocking on city hall’s door.
Time magazine reported that year that Baltimore seemed to have to have more razor wire and abandoned buildings than Kosovo.
And the list of candidates for the mayor’s job had a razor’s edge quality to it as well.
There were 27 of them in all. Six of that total had criminal arrest records, three had filed for bankruptcy and one was a convict.
O’Malley, a former city councilman and federal prosecutor, not only looked squeaky clean by comparison, he seemed positively saintly.
So could he work miracles in his gritty, new world namesake of a distant fishing village in County Cork?
It would not be for the want of trying. O’Malley, at 36 the youngest mayor in Baltimore’s storied history, turned his back on his predecessor’s suggestion that the best way to combat the city’s soaring drug problem might be to legalize narcotics.
Instead, O’Malley took a leaf out of the Rudy Giuliani playbook and embarked on a policy of zero tolerance towards crime and its perpetrators.
Something must have worked because a few years after he took office, Time was calling O’Malley one of America’s five best mayors.
Being mayor of the state’s biggest city is not, of course, a guarantee that the governorship automatically follows.
Being called a Maryland version of the Kennedys is not necessarily a key to opening all doors either.
O’Malley’s road to Annapolis has a formidable roadblock on it in the form of incumbent Republican Robert Ehrlich – who defeated a Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, back in 2002.
In many ways, O’Malley and Ehrlich seem cut from similar cloth in terms of family background, youthful interests, legal training and their taste for preppy apparel during working hours.
O’Malley, however, also has his alter ego. On stage, guitar in hand, he looks like an Irish version of Bruce Springsteen.
Maryland, technically, is a blue state. But voters often take differing paths when it comes to national elections, and plebiscites held within state lines.
O’Malley, for sure, benefits from his Irishness in a state where there are a significant number of Irish-American voters.
He is, arguably, the most self-consciously “Irish” politician of the new generation. His group’s website – the band has been mothballed during the present campaign – promises Celtic rock music “with a kick.”
O’Malley’s campaign website biography opens with words from James Joyce and when it came to pulling lines from history for his mayoral acceptance speech, O’Malley reached for John Boyle O’Reilly.
But, all things Irish apart, it is the way that Maryland’s large African-American vote breaks that will likely decide the issue on Nov. 7.
And besides, not a few Irish votes will go to the GOP’s Ehrlich regardless of O’Malley’s name or his Galway roots
Martin Joseph O’Malley’s debut in politics was as a foot soldier in the ill-fated Gary Hart presidential bid of 1984.
Later, back in Maryland, his law degree in his pocket, O’Malley went to work for then congresswoman, and later U.S. Senator, Barbara Mikulski.
The political bug bit, or, like his band’s music, it kicked.
O’Malley’s first political office came when he secured a vacant seat on the Baltimore City Council. He kept the seat warm between 1991 and ’99, the year he won the mayor’s job with a whopping 91 percent of the general election vote.
By 2004, when he stood for reelection, O’Malley saw his percentage fall – to 88 percent.
Mayor O’Malley set about tackling Baltimore’s crime epidemic with his own version of New York’s CompStat crime fighting technique. The results have been good, not so good and hotly disputed, depending on perspective.
Given that he is inclined towards music with a kick, it’s not entirely surprising that O’Malley’s foot can sometimes appear as if it is marching straight into his mouth.
In early 2005, he took zingers from both sides of the political aisle for characterizing President Bush’s proposed cuts in budgetary aid to cities as being akin to the 9/11 attack on America.
This followed an earlier statement in which he professed to be more fearful of the administration than Al-Qaeda.
If nothing else, however, such rhetorical stretches were clear signals that O’Malley harbored political dreams beyond the boundaries of his city, and that national security would be a prime issue of choice as he pursued them.
Those dreams will soar or take a nosedive just a few days from now.
In the meantime, O’Malley is being viewed by Democratic heavy hitters as an undeniably strong prospect.
Former President Clinton, and Senator Hillary Clinton, have been but two of the party’s top drawer national figures who have been helping raise both money and the candidate’s profile.
“Martin O’Malley is very strong and charismatic. He has good leadership and people skills. He is also a good listener,” said Stella O’Leary, who heads the Irish-American Democrats fundraising group.
If O’Malley wins the Maryland governor’s race and listens to some of his close confidantes, he will be hearing, not for the first time, that nothing less than the presidency could be in his political future.
At just 43, there would appear to be no need to hurry in that direction.
Then again, Martin O’Malley always seems to be in a hurry, marching hard to both stage and stump.
Geographic proximity could hint at something here. Baltimore and Annapolis are but two corners of what is virtually an equilateral triangle.
The third point is, of course, the nation’s capital, the point on the map where Martin O’Malley’s life’s march first saw the light of day.

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