Md. Governor's Race: Martin O'Malley

A Politician Molded by Irish Rebels, Jesuit Ideals

"People always overestimate my ambition and underestimate my conviction," the Democratic candidate for governor says. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 1, 2006

In the synagogue meeting hall, the candidate's rhetoric has taken flight. "If there is a motto to the O'Malley-Brown campaign," says the Baltimore mayor, the poet-pol who would be governor, "then it is found in the eyes and faces of the people we seek to serve."

The congregants of B'nai Israel in Rockville came to the Sunday morning forum with earnest questions on the issues, and Martin O'Malley, the great hope of Maryland's Democratic Party, gave them answers, on roads and schools, crime and health care.

Now, in closing, as often happens, he's into oratory.

"While concepts of healing the world -- tikkun olam , tzedakah , justice -- are clearly Judeo concepts, they are also human concepts," says O'Malley, a singer-songwriter of Irish folk music. "They are guardians of the freedom of the human spirit and the proof of what our human frailty can achieve."

In his bid to unseat Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), O'Malley, 43, is called a lot of things. Whichever descriptions apply to the former Baltimore City Council member and now second-term mayor -- a tough go-getter or an impolitic showboat; hyperambitious or selflessly committed to the public good -- this much is clear:

He sure can talk.

Critics call it eloquence masquerading as substance. But grand expression has always been part of O'Malley's ethnic tradition, inspiring faith and purpose in the Irish through ages of adversity. With time dwindling before Election Day, and O'Malley leading in independent polls, the question is, can he talk his way to Annapolis?

'A Man for Others'

"You must be sick of me by now," O'Malley says later in the day, climbing into a Ford Expedition in Howard County after working the crowd at a charity lunch.

It's long after the synagogue forum. He has knocked on doors, sat in meetings, done radio and television interviews and fired up a women's rally. Now he slides his lean, 6-foot-1 frame onto the rear seat and tilts his head back against the leather, eyes shut for a moment.

"I know I'm sick of me," he says, grinning, as the SUV pulls out, carrying him back to Montgomery County. There's more door-knocking on the schedule, more of the retail politicking that friends say O'Malley is instinctively drawn to.

When he was a foot soldier in Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign, O'Malley says, he thought his career in politics would be behind the scenes as "a thoroughbred organizer," given his genes.

His grandfathers were New Deal Democrats: one, a ward boss in Pittsburgh; the other, chairman of an Indiana congressional district. Growing up in Bethesda and Rockville, the third of six siblings, O'Malley says he learned an ethos of political involvement from his parents, who first met at Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1954.


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