O'Malley's Music Brings Exposure -- And Gibes

Fronting a band has given Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, right, with bassist Pete Miller, statewide exposure.
Fronting a band has given Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, right, with bassist Pete Miller, statewide exposure. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 29, 2006

The people waving broadly to Martin O'Malley across Ellicott City's Main Street knew him as more than Baltimore's mayor and a Democratic candidate for governor.

Katie Turyna had seen the mayor's seven-piece Celtic rock band, O'Malley's March, play in Catonsville. And a few years back, John Beck shot two rolls of film at one of the group's concerts and forwarded duplicates to the mayor.

"He actually used one of them on his next CD," said Beck, 67, as O'Malley continued a recent stroll down the historic Howard County street, shaking hands and posing for pictures.

In this year's race for governor, O'Malley's nearly two decades fronting the band have been used primarily to bash him -- with his Democratic rival, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan seeking to turn the mayor's musical side career into a symbol of a vainglorious politician devoid of substance.

Duncan's fliers and news releases have mocked O'Malley. One showed the mayor in a black sleeveless shirt and derisively referred to him as "the boy in the band."

At a candidates forum this month, Duncan made a point of telling the audience that he and his running mate "are not rock stars. We're people who are very serious about getting the job done."

But a more nuanced look at O'Malley's musical pursuits suggests that his band played an important role in developing a political persona twice embraced as mayor by Baltimore voters. It has also helped position O'Malley for a statewide run.

O'Malley the musician has been free in recent years to travel the state and broaden his exposure in a way that would have been seen as overtly political -- and off-putting to some -- had he done so only as a candidate angling for higher office.

Besides playing weekend gigs in and around Baltimore, O'Malley's March has appeared regularly before beer-drinking crowds in such places as Ocean City, Easton, Chestertown and Annapolis.

Whether O'Malley's vocals and guitar will work against his gravitas remains to be seen. But recent encounters on the campaign trail suggest that such a viewpoint is hardly universal.

"I appreciate him being multi-talented," Turyna, 35, said after greeting O'Malley in Ellicott City. "He's not just up there in his office. He can come down and relate to people."

Although Clancy Brothers records were played in O'Malley's home while he was growing up, it wasn't until high school that he fully tuned in to his Irish heritage. Inspired by a football coach, he learned to play several Celtic instruments and was soon in his first band.

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