The ambitious governor of Maryland stumbles toward 2016.
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O’Malley’s hubris in picking fights with the Church while making a show of his Irish and Catholic heritage doesn’t surprise Newgent. “You will see pictures of him with ash on his forehead, and he can rattle off Irish poems,” he said. O’Malley knows that the complacent Maryland media, which is largely in his pocket in a one-party state, won’t make an issue of such hypocrisy. “He has never been held accountable,” says Newgent, who thinks that an O’Malley run for the presidency is likely. “He has the ego to do it. He has been running for president from his first day as a councilman.”
O’MALLEY WENT TO LAW SCHOOL and passed the bar, but his chief interest was always politics. He cut his teeth as an organizer in Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign. Later he joined Congresswoman Barbara Mikulski’s office as a field director, before jumping into Baltimore politics as a city council member and then mayor. He married into the Curran family, a politically powerful Maryland clan. His wife, Catherine Curran, is a state district judge, and her father was the state’s attorney general for many years.
O’Malley is said to have been one of the inspirations for Tommy Carcetti, the fictional mayor of a crooked and crime-infested Baltimore in The Wire, an HBO show. But O’Malley resents the comparison. After an MSNBC host introduced him as “one of the real-life inspirations for the mayor of the hit TV show The Wire,” he replied testily: “I would take issue with whether or not I’m the inspiration for The Wire. I’m the antidote to The Wire.”
O’Malley is given to boasts about a cleaned-up Maryland that don’t hold up under scrutiny. As mayor of Baltimore, he bragged about a plummeting crime rate, but both Democrats and Republicans dismissed his claim as the product of flaky methodology. Similarly, his claim that Maryland tops the nation in quality of public education comes from the liberal publication Education Week, which uses as its principal criterion not educational achievement but the amount of money a state spends per pupil.
He proposed this year a new “genuine progress indicator” to measure economic growth in the state—an attempt to move away from hardheaded, measurable criteria toward vaguer indices of improvement, such as the amount of time Marylanders spend on “volunteer work” and the length of their commutes.
“This is a very disturbing development in Maryland if we are going to go and develop a whole new system to measure economic performance,” Jim Pettit of the group Change Maryland told the Capital Gazette. “There is a very touch-feely aspect to all of this.” Petit observed to the paper that O’Malley’s new standard wouldn’t include data from the Internal Revenue Service showing that people and businesses are fleeing the state. “According to Pettit, 36,400 jobs have been lost in the state since 2007, and the number of Fortune 500 companies has dropped from 11 to three in that same time,” reported the paper.
In their frequent TV appearances together, the head of the Republican Governors Association, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, has taken to needling O’Malley over the steady stream of Maryland businesses and residents moving to Virginia. After O’Malley told a radio interviewer that he would like to debate McDonnell, “followed immediately by a push-up contest,” McDonnell’s spokesman Tucker Martin said the governor didn’t have time, since “we’re just so busy helping the thousands of former Maryland residents who have recently moved to Virginia get situated.”
Maryland Democrats privately grumble that O’Malley has built up his national image as a progressive champion at their expense, pushing the state in directions more liberal than they would like. At a time of economic distress, he has pursued a largely frivolous agenda—the promotion of wind farms, the expansion of casino gambling, amnesty (he calls illegal immigrants “new Americans”), and gay marriage top the list—in hopes of ingratiating himself with coastal elites.
Typical of this lightweight style was his instruction to all members of his cabinet that they read a Rolling Stone interview with Bruce Springsteen. “I thought the clarity of language, the clarity of purpose, and the clarity of principle that came ringing through that interview, where Bruce Springsteen talked about the state of our nation, was something very powerful and insightful,” O’Malley told the press solemnly after the homework assignment made news.
But Marylanders don’t appear to view O’Malley as born to run for president. According to a poll conducted by the Washington Post in the fall, fewer than half of them approve of his job performance. Worse, only 22 percent of Maryland voters see him as a good potential president. It would seem that O’Malley’s march to 2016, with a dog whistle in one hand and a tin whistle in the other, has lost the beat.
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