Can O'Malley Bring Obama Luck of the Irish?

By Jamie Stiehm

March 15, 2012 5 min read

Baltimore's leading Irish rock band plays a St. Patrick's Day gig Saturday, and Washington would be wise to tune in. The band, O'Malley's March, goes on the road to the White House Tuesday.

The blue-eyed singer clad in black fronting the band is better-known for his day jobs: Once mayor of Baltimore, he's now governor of Maryland. Martin O'Malley, 49, brings a passionate intensity (to borrow from poet W.B. Yeats) to writing songs and speeches. As a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, I witnessed O'Malley's rise as an ambitious young mayor.

Head of the Democratic Governors Association, O'Malley is gaining exposure on the Sunday talk shows. As an Irish Catholic defender of President Obama's health care reform and free birth control coverage, he's a valuable surrogate, taking on the American Catholic bishops on a sticky subject.

O'Malley told me he's discussed party "messaging" with President Obama on job creation and education — unifying talking points for governors to take back to battleground states.

"He's been very cordial," O'Malley said of Obama. "I appreciate his willingness to meet and coordinate. I look forward to working more with him." On the national outlook, he said, "Things are getting better all the time, with the urgency of now."

Perhaps he'd be even more useful in Obama's re-election campaign if Joe Biden, the genial vice president, steps down from the 2012 national ticket. Biden would be over 70 if he gets sworn in for a second term. He's done a fine job, but his elder statesman status isn't as much of an asset now that Obama, 50, has weathered storms in office. Biden's mistakes stem from over-sharing.

O'Malley as Obama's running mate would bring fresh vigor to what's bound to be a long, hard fight into the fall. It's time to signify, as John F. Kennedy declared in his 1961 inaugural address, "the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans."

At first, O'Malley's talent was as raw as the sugar cane that sailed into the Inner Harbor. A bit intemperate — he called the master of Maryland politics, William Donald Schaefer, "my mentor and tormentor" — yet his ability to read people deepened each passing day. Many times I walked over to City Hall to hear the latest neighborhood initiative, crime-fighting method or plan to paint an old railroad bridge.

As mayor, O'Malley obsessed over details. In a city that had seen better days, he restlessly infused morale in black and white areas alike. You see, as a white mayor of a majority-black city, his election defied political experts. But I saw with my own eyes how black voters went O'Malley's way. The black community, victimized by violent crime, chose him as the man with the plan.

After an African-American family died in a burning rowhouse due to arson, a night street vigil took place where the mayor nearly wept with rage, but spoke in prayer. At the end of the day, he took Baltimore personally.

In Baltimore, a city of first names, there's talk about "Martin's next move." Many believe he's eyeing 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. — and I don't mean the one in West Baltimore. After all, he's in his second term as governor, and has something to write home about by signing the Marriage Equality Act. In so doing, he framed gay marriage as a matter of dignity.

When asked what's next, he replied: "Golly, I don't know. I know what I have to do today. I know what I have to do tomorrow."

Then there's history. O'Malley is well-read on Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist who escaped slavery in Maryland. One day we got to talking about Douglass' visit to Ireland. Turns out he met Daniel O'Connell, the eloquent champion of Catholic emancipation. Exciting stuff. Don't get O'Malley started on "The Star-Spangled Banner" lyrics on the Battle of Baltimore unless you've got some time.

When O'Malley became mayor, City Council members urged him to keep at his music. So he did. Years later, he defeated a sitting Republican governor, and O'Malley's March jammed at the inaugural party. He sang Bob Dylan's melody "The Times, They Are a'Changin'" — the old song in a new voice.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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