Under sunshine, blue skies and the shadows cast by City Hall, City Councilman Martin O'Malley was sworn in yesterday as Baltimore's 47th mayor, pledging to make neighborhoods such as Cherry Hill, East Baltimore and Penn North as safe as the more upscale enclaves of Guilford, Roland Park and Homeland.
With his wife and three small children by his side, the 36-year-old lawyer completed the oath of office delivered by city Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway at 12: 42 p.m. He then stepped to the microphone to ask thousands of residents gathered around War Memorial Plaza to help restore a city shattered by poverty, drugs and violence.
"The best days in life are not perfect days," O'Malley said, his voice trembling with resolve and echoing off the stately War Memorial building. "The best days are those when, out of failure and despair, you take on a new challenge. And you feel alive with the promise of what might be."
While other American cities have experienced sharp drops in violent crime and murder, O'Malley inherits a city struggling to keep the number of homicides below 300 for the first time in nine years.
Yesterday's inauguration -- which resembled a presidential induction -- was marred by the citywide dragnet for three suspected killers of five woman slain in a Belair-Edison home on Sunday, a crime that departing Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called one of the worst in his 12-year tenure.
O'Malley begins his first full day in office today after besting 27 candidates in the first mayoral race in 28 years that lacked an incumbent mayor running.
The white Montgomery County native won in this predominantly African-American city by promising to reduce rampant open-air drug dealing and the violence that accompanies it.
Reflecting on a prayer written by St. Francis of Assisi, O'Malley called for healing, unity and compassion.
"This is my prayer for the city," O'Malley said. "To heal, to unite and to bring home those who have lost their way, to restore compassion, to build respect and to achieve justice here and now in this place, our place, Baltimore, the greatest city in America."
O'Malley used the 75-minute swearing-in ceremony to bring together all of the city's races, religions and cultures.
The entertainment included a Korean dance company, a Native American dance troupe, the Sandtown Children's Choir, the Winston Middle School Jazz Band and the Morgan State University Band, which opened the induction with the O'Malley campaign theme song, "Fanfare for the Common Man."
The musical diversity was matched by the range of spiritual leaders on the stage. Cardinal William H. Keeler of the Baltimore Archdiocese delivered a prayer, as did Rabbi Herman N. Neuberger. The main invocation was by the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of the city's largest African-American congregation, Bethel AME Church.
"Education as usual is no longer acceptable," said Reid, Schmoke's stepbrother. "Economic development as usual is no longer acceptable, policing as usual is no longer acceptable. We declare a new Baltimore from this day forward."
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who declined a citizen draft effort to draw him into the race, served as the master of ceremonies. The former West Baltimore councilman and congressman thanked Schmoke for his 12 years of service, calling him a "prudent archer" who targeted open and honest government.
Former mayors attend
Also in attendance were former Mayors William Donald Schaefer, Thomas D'Alesandro III, J. Harold Grady and Clarence H. Du Burns.
Schmoke, who will take a job with the Washington law firm Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering, then introduced O'Malley, calling him a "young, energetic, family-oriented leader."
"A leader is a dealer of hope," Schmoke said. "Let us rally around Martin O'Malley."
But the unquestionable stars of the ceremony were the O'Malley girls -- Grace, 8, and Tara, 7. The two thanked the crowd for being nice to their family during the campaign.
"When my dad decided to run for mayor, a lot of people said he was crazy," Tara said, igniting laughter throughout the crowd. "But my mom said not to listen to those people. She said it's important to stand up for what you believe in."
Reminiscent of JFK
The event reminded many of the inauguration of another Irish-American politician -- President John F. Kennedy. Much like Kennedy, who delivered his address on a blustery day in 1961, the hatless O'Malley stepped down from the City Hall balcony in a long black topcoat before taking the stage. His 2-year-old son, William, ran up and down the stage leaping onto the lap of his mother, Katie, looking much like John-John Kennedy.
"It was eerie," said Steven J. Fugate, president of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association union. "The only thing missing was the Boston accent."
Theresa Wedlok, a 43-year-old African-American resident of Northeast Baltimore who watched the event wearing a baseball cap with "Jesus" scrawled on the bill, agreed.