Support From the Sidelines

Katie O'Malley, far right, a district court judge and wife of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, is prohibited from participating in partisan politics, including her husband's bid for governor. But, she says, their children  --  including, from left, Tara, Grace and Jack  --
Katie O'Malley, far right, a district court judge and wife of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, is prohibited from participating in partisan politics, including her husband's bid for governor. But, she says, their children -- including, from left, Tara, Grace and Jack -- "represent our family well." (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 5, 2006

She is smart, articulate, and accomplished and grew up in a prominent political family. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) could hardly ask for a spouse better suited for the campaign trail -- in fact, that's where they met.

But as the mayor runs for governor, Catherine Curran O'Malley may be the greatest asset he is not able to tap.

Besides being the mayor's wife, Katie O'Malley is a district court judge in Baltimore -- a job that effectively mutes her this political season. Like other Maryland judges, she is prohibited by a judicial code of conduct from engaging in partisan political activity.

The upshot is events such as one last week hosted by "Women for O'Malley/Brown": The mayor stood atop a boat docked in Baltimore's Inner Harbor surrounded by several hundred female supporters, including his two teenage daughters, his mother and a political mentor, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.). But no Katie.

"For me, it's one of the most frustrating things about this campaign," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore), a longtime O'Malley supporter who watched Katie participate in his campaigns for mayor and a City Council seat before she became a judge in 2001. "She spoke eloquently for her husband in a very personal way about what drives him and motivates him. When she was out on the stump, it was very moving."

Katie O'Malley's silence in the governor's race has been all the more noticeable given the outspoken posture that Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s wife is taking. During an appearance before a group of Republican women in Ocean City, first lady Kendel S. Ehrlich made headlines for calling O'Malley "a failure" and accusing Democratic lawmakers of trying to "steal the election."

Anne Holton, first lady of Virginia, found herself in a similar spot last year when her husband, Timothy M. Kaine (D), ran for governor while she served on the bench. After Kaine won, Holton stepped down -- something Katie O'Malley said she does not plan to do.

Katie O'Malley, whom friends describe as confident, sassy and more down-to-earth than the mayor, is supportive of her husband's political career, but by all accounts is more focused on working as a judge and raising their four children: Grace, 15; Tara, 14; William, 8; and Jack, 3.

With their mother largely on the sidelines, the children are playing more visible roles. William took a lead role in a television commercial and often answers phones at campaign headquarters.

Grace and Tara spent a recent day in Crisfield handing out O'Malley stickers to 5,000 clambake attendees. They also have been a presence at campaign headquarters, helping to enlist volunteers and getting yard signs to supporters.

"I would campaign if I could, but they really represent our family well," Katie O'Malley said, adding that the restriction does make home life easier. "Anyone who's got even one kid knows you can't have more than one parent out all the time, or that would make things miserable."

Martin O'Malley and Katie Curran crossed paths on the campaign trail in Maryland two decades ago. In 1986, Martin O'Malley worked as Mikulski's field director in her Senate bid. Katie Curran accompanied her father, J. Joseph Curran Jr., who was running for attorney general, to many of the same events. Her grandfather and two uncles also have served on Baltimore City Council.


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