Lights, Camera, Mayor

An NBC film crew has its work cut out for it trying to catch the flavor of Martin O'Malley

July 11, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Tony White paces across the back of the Baltimore Convention Center, flipping open his cellular phone to call his office.

"Carol," says the spokesman for Mayor Martin O'Malley, "have you heard from the NBC people?"

Today is a big day for the O'Malley administration. A television news crew is en route from Washington to film a profile of Baltimore's boy wonder politician to air next month on the "Today Show" during the Democratic National Convention.

The piece is one of several that will highlight future players in each political party. Operating just 42 miles northeast of the Capitol, the charismatic O'Malley has caught NBC's eye. But as the former city councilman prepares to welcome the national delegation of the NAACP, the film crew is nowhere to be found.

Unbeknownst to White, the TV entourage of six has already spilled into a side door with machines rolling, getting every O'Malley word.

"Sure, we're proud of the Orioles and Cal Ripken and the Inner Harbor," says the 37-year-old mayor in his strong, clear tenor pitch.

"But we are most proud that the biggest, baddest civil rights organization in America calls Baltimore home."

Wild cheers erupt for O'Malley as White and the film crew finally connect. While O'Malley remains onstage, they study the mayor's itinerary.

An 11 a.m. press conference to announce the expansion of the warrant task force to track down fugitive criminals. A noon lunch with state Sen. Joan Carter Conway. A 2:30 p.m. event in East Baltimore to post the first lead contamination citation on a city home.

None of this sounds too promising to NBC national correspondent Bob Faw. As a 32-year broadcast veteran, Faw knows what he wants - and doesn't want.

"Obviously if he jumped on a garbage truck or was spraying off grafitti that would work," Faw tells White. "But I want spontaneity. I don't want to sit down with him and talk to him."

It's taken the national media exactly seven months and three days to find O'Malley since he was inaugurated. Faw first heard about the mayor shortly after his November election victory. He was having dinner with former broadcast colleague Richard Scher when Scher's wife, a longtime Schmoke aide who now is O'Malley's assistant to education, piped up: "You gotta see this guy."

Faw tucked the comment away but within a few weeks was reading a piece on O'Malley in the Washington Post with the headline: "Charm City's Mr. Charming." So he proposed an O'Malley story to his producers.

The correspondent has already done the band thing, having come over in April to catch O'Malley's March jamming with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Now he wants a day in the life of the man.

After learning that O'Malley doesn't traditionally "do lunch" but munches on power bars and blocks out time to lift weights at the gym, Faw can already see the footage he wants.

"If he's eating a four-course meal today and he's usually chewing a power bar, then we're not interested," Faw tells White of the formal lunch shot.

Then he looks over at his producer, Sean Reis, discussing a possible gym shot. Reis grimaces, worrying that they may be crossing the line of setting up a shot. "You can ask him `Mr. Mayor are you going to the gym today?' " Reis says.

"Is that staging if he does it four days a week? I don't know," Faw responds. "That's the kind of thing that sets him apart."

Chink in the armor?

By the time they roll into the 11 a.m. press conference, they're 30 minutes late. The news crew dives into Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris' board room, packed with about a dozen local media plus an equal number of politicians and their aides.

O'Malley jumps right in, never missing a beat, introducing everyone, careful not to forget the police chiefs from surrounding counties. Then a strange thing happens: O'Malley asks reporters if there are any questions. No one speaks a word. "How come nobody asked questions?" Faw says aloud.

Before he can get an answer, he notices reporters lining up to talk to O'Malley individually. "Oh that's why," he says. "They all get access afterward."

As the interviews drag on, Faw thinks he may have found a chink in the O'Malley armor. "Can this guy say no?"

The crew - cameras, microphones, earphones - tumble into the elevator, filming the mayor's every move when Faw jumps in a separate car. As the Eastern Shore native walks ahead of the pack on the ground floor, he hears O'Malley yelp.

"Hey," the mayor says, giving a hug and a peck on the cheek to a woman old enough to be his mother, "the mayor of Fells Point."

Faw grimaces. "Now see," he says, "that's the kind of shot we should be getting."

He turns to see his camera crew all over it. As they march out of police headquarters for a short breather on the pavement, Faw casually approaches the mayor about the gym shot. "Naaaaaaaaaaaw," O'Malley says blushing and smiling. "You don't want to see me pumping iron."

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