The Democratic Convention
O'Malley savors the spotlight
Mayor: Rewarded with a prized speaking slot, he keeps a frantic pace,
promoting the Democratic ticket in Boston.
By Kimberly A.C. Wilson
Sun National Staff
July 28, 2004
BOSTON - Martin O'Malley may be running late, but he's right on message.
It's 5:20 p.m. Tuesday and he has already accommodated dozens of
interview requests from radio and TV stations across the country,
hosted a party, tinkered with his big speech and published his daily
There's no sign he'll stop talking any time soon.
Even on the second day of the Democratic National Convention, when dark
circles become as ubiquitous as red, white and blue banners,
Baltimore's mayor is looking fresh, riding high and playing to win.
As one of a handful of big-city mayors rewarded with a few minutes of
speaking time at the convention, O'Malley is seizing his moment. When
he takes the podium tonight, he plans to deliver a message he has been
repeating for nearly three years: gamble with homeland security at
"There's been so little movement on the homeland security front, when
people ask me how long I've been writing my speech, I tell them since
about Sept. 12, 2001," O'Malley says, and he isn't completely
In the three years since terrorists hijacked planes and crashed them in
New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, O'Malley has become a leading
voice on homeland security issues.
When the U.S. Conference of Mayors tapped him to be co-chairman of a
task force on federal and local terrorism prevention, he learned that
city governments were footing most of the bill for homeland security -
a risky proposition in urban centers such as Baltimore where high crime
and struggling public schools compete for tax dollars, and in port
cities where arriving cargo goes largely unchecked.
O'Malley tells Gordon Peterson, the longtime news anchor of
Washington's WUSA-TV, that only a small percentage of U.S. ports are
being inspected. He says the same thing by phone to a radio reporter in
the Midwest. And, he says again and again, scarce federal funds for
homeland security mean improvements have been few.
Holding fast to that security message, without variation or
improvisation, is the major reason O'Malley was selected to be one of
the Democratic Party's "surrogate speakers," assigned to communicate
the Kerry/Edwards position on an array of issues.
Homeland security belongs to O'Malley.
"I'm available here, of course, but after the convention as well,
anytime you need me," he tells a Democratic Party media coordinator
after a series of telephone interviews.
All of the exposure is building toward tonight when O'Malley spends his
moments in the pre-primetime speech laying out the choices that he
thinks must be made to keep the nation secure. His 1,500-word speech,
edited by party officials to a trim 1,000 words, fulfils the "keep it
positive" edict imposed on convention speeches by the Kerry campaign.
"Mostly, I'll talk about what hasn't been done and what John Kerry will
do," he says.
He's not the only mayor on the speakers' list. Three others have
already spoken, none on the cusp of primetime like O'Malley.
At a four-day event where minutes of podium time are divvied out
parsimoniously, two minutes here and five minutes there, being allotted
seven and a half minutes is a big payoff in the currency of this
"It's a humbling honor," he says. So humbling, he shrugs off questions
about his State House aspirations. "I'm not here playing gubernatorial
politics. I've got a lot to do," he says, downing a coffee.
It's a mantra of the convention: focus on unity, set home state
rivalries aside for now.
"We already see a unity of purpose among Democrats - in Maryland and
across the country," O'Malley writes in a signed editorial on the front
of O'Malley Convention News, a colorful daily newsletter complete with
the night's lineup of speakers, the Democratic Party's
theme-of-the-day, a party calendar and a weather box.
Earlier yesterday, O'Malley bounded onto the stage at a Maryland
delegation breakfast he hosted at the Seaport Hotel to introduce House
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, now of San Francisco, but a member of
the city's D'Alesandro political clan.
"Her father and brother both had the most difficult job in all of
Maryland politics - that is mayor of Baltimore," O'Malley said, joking.
"Many things start in Maryland ... I'm so proud of the job that Martin
O'Malley is doing as mayor of Baltimore," Pelosi said.
At the breakfast, underwritten by Comcast Cable, the Teamsters,
Communication Workers of America, and the United Auto Workers, diners
received black tote bags filled with goodies including a CD of his
band, O'Malley's March. His band mates didn't make it to Boston, but
O'Malley will perform with the local Sunday's Well band at a party
"When I look out at a gathering like this and I see [former Gov. Parris
N. Glendening], four words come to mind: I miss you, man," O'Malley
said, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd. "I'm sorry for all
the times I asked for more money for Baltimore. Wasn't it nice when we
had a governor who wanted to move Maryland forward?"
It was a reference to his own ambitions, perhaps, in a ballroom where
his likely rival for the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nomination,
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, was eating breakfast.
Still, O'Malley soldiered on for unity.
Answering a reporter's questions a few minutes later, O'Malley stood
back to back with Duncan.
"Are they going to say anything to one another?" a radio reporter, hip
to the pair's deep competition, wondered aloud.
They almost didn't. Then O'Malley, on his way to a meeting with staff
members, backtracked and gave Duncan a sporting handshake.
Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun