Irene has, no doubt, posed challenges for many residents of the region who have waited days to have their power restored and face daunting home repairs. But for the governors of Maryland and Virginia, it has offered national attention and a chance to display leadership in a time of crisis.
O’Malley (D) and McDonnell (R) — rising stars in their respective parties — fielded calls from President Obama and other federal officials and appeared the morning after the storm on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Days later, they were on WTOP radio to assure residents of the Washington region that the states were doing all they could to restore power, clear roads and return life to normal.
In such situations, politicians can risk looking too interested in self-promotion. But O’Malley and McDonnell — who aides said texted each other the night Irene arrived — have received high marks for their measured leadership, even from some frequent critics.
“People want to know that their elected officials understand what they’re going through, and the only way you do that is to go out and be there,” said Maryland House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert), who joined O’Malley on Tuesday as the governor toured a wooded neighborhood in St. Mary’s County in which every home had downed trees, some of which broke through roofs and smashed back decks. “I think this is appropriate.”
McDonnell was publicly praised by longtime Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim (D), who appeared at a news conference with him Friday at the Norfolk Emergency Operations Center. Fraim said that he has never seen a governor come to the region before a hurricane.
O’Malley and McDonnell lead the dueling partisan organizations that try to elect governors from their parties. Both have
credited President Obama and FEMA for their help in responding to Hurricane Irene. During his “Meet the Press” appearance, O’Malley said the agency had come a long way since the days of Katrina.
Aides to both men acknowledged that there can be political upsides to all the exposure they receive during a natural disaster, but they also argue that governors can use the power of their office to improve public safety and the pace of the recovery.
During his many media briefings and media interviews in recent days, O’Malley has provided the latest figures on power outages — in an effort to pressure utility companies to move more quickly.