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O’Malley announcement brings supporters, protesters to Baltimore’s Federal Hill

Martin O'Malley officially launched his presidential campaign with a speech in Baltimore. (Video: AP)
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Martin O'Malley appeared Saturday morning in Baltimore, the city he lives in and led as mayor for seven years, to announce that he is running for president. The Democrat, who also served two terms as Maryland governor, faces long odds in his effort to topple overwhelming party favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton.

His announcement drew few members of Maryland's political establishment -- much of which is backing Clinton. A handful of people protested his "zero-tolerance" policing policies while mayor of Baltimore, which drew renewed scrutiny this spring because of the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray. Supporters said they welcomed his populist message, which included digs at big banking and calls for an economically fairer America.

Bart McNeill drove from Lancaster County, Pa., to hear O'Malley, who he said offered exactly the kind of progressive stance he is looking for in a presidential candidate.

"I know he's an underdog still," said McNeill. "But I'd like to see some sort of fight against Hillary. I don't think she should just be anointed the Democratic candidate, which seems to be the case right now."

A small group of protesters crashed former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley' celebrations as he announced he would run for president. One protester, Megan Kenny, held a sign in protest of the the zero-tolerance policing O'Malley popularized during his tenure as Baltimore mayor. (Video: Arelis Hernandez/The Washington Post)

A giant American flag fluttered in the wind at the top of the hill, and a steady stream of people flowed into the park outfitted with flags and pins bearing the new sky blue O'Malley logo — encased in what appeared to be a square-edged speech bubble. There were a few hundred people there by 10 a.m., when the event was scheduled to begin. The crowd was racially diverse and spanned several generations, and the atmosphere was casual, like a summer barbecue. It was hot and humid, and everyone was sweating.

Susan and Bob Duggan scored a shaded spot beneath a tree to hear a guy they've like for a long time. The Columbia, Md., couple first encountered O'Malley through his music after hearing him play several years ago at an event in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. They said they were inspired by the "spiritual depth" in the songs he played and O'Malley's ability to bring people together through art.

"That's going to show up in his campaign," Said Susan Duggan, 68. "He's at the interface of generations,"

Her husband Bob Duggan, 75, said the time has passed for someone of his age bracket to run for president. O'Malley, 52, "is a fresh voice and he can bridge the gaps between different age groups," Duggan said. "He's working at not being appointed, but being wanted."

Security was tight, with personnel checking bags and escorting guests as they ascended the hill. Metal barriers corralled each group into its respective section. A handful of Baltimore police officers were on hand in an area separate from the general crowd.

Although signs were prohibited, one woman, Megan Kenny of Baltimore, managed to hold aloft a piece of cardboard with the words "Stop killer police" written on it. Kenny said O'Malley's "zero-tolerance" policing policies as mayor of Baltimore did not work.