The O'Malley question: to run or not

The Political Game

Buzz: A recent poll showing a strong favorability rating for the mayor of Baltimore has some wondering whether he might have ideas about entering the governor's race.

January 16, 2001|By Thomas W. Waldron and Gady A. Epstein | Thomas W. Waldron and Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

WILL HE run? Against a Kennedy?

These are questions being pondered in Maryland politics these days. The "he" is Mayor Martin O'Malley, who henceforth must be referred to as the "popular mayor of Baltimore" after he hit stratospheric highs in a statewide poll released last week.

The Kennedy, of course, is Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the state's lieutenant governor, who until now has appeared to have the inside track in next year's governor's race.

The poll results confirmed her standing as the presumptive front-runner - she's far better-known than her most likely rivals, and well-liked - but it also gave people occasion to rethink the governor's race for a moment.

In the poll, conducted by Potomac Survey Research for The Sun and two Washington-area media outlets, O'Malley garnered a 51 percent favorability rating statewide, with only 3 percent of those polled giving him negative marks.

His strong showing cut across all demographic and geographic lines and was most impressive in the city he runs, where an eye-popping 88 percent of respondents had a favorable impression of him.

O'Malley was riding a wave of good publicity lately with the city's homicide rate declining, so the poll adds to the buzz surrounding the 37-year-old mayor.

As pollster Carol Arscott of Gonzalez/Arscott Research & Communications notes, "He's even got the Ravens going for him right now. There's this kind of aura around Baltimore."

So will O'Malley channel that positive energy into a run for governor?

He has a "free shot," because even if he lost next year, he would keep his job as mayor until at least the 2004 city election. But some wonder whether it's too early for him to go for higher office, suggesting that he could wait and hope that one of the state's U.S. Senate seats comes open in 2004 or 2006.

And would he really want to challenge a member of the Kennedy clan, who could help him later on the national political stage?

The mayor's not saying.

He refuses to address the poll's political implications - though he also refuses to rule out a run for governor next year - muttering only the mantra, "I am committed to doing all I can to make Baltimore City the best city in America."

For now, the bets are against a run. "I've asked him about it several times, and [the answer is] no, he likes being mayor, and he's for Kathleen," said a political observer who knows O'Malley and Townsend. "But whether that's what he really thinks or what he thinks today, I have no idea. Now his head may be turned by this poll."

Legislators, even some foes of stadium, support Ravens

With the Baltimore Ravens headed to the Super Bowl, just about everybody has jumped on the purple bandwagon.

Why, you'd almost forget that it took a ferocious political battle in the State House five years ago to win funding for the team's football stadium.

In the end, the stadium financing cleared the Maryland Senate by a single vote and the House of Delegates by a handful.

Some legislators don't seem all that chagrined about declaring their love for the Ravens, despite voting against their stadium.

Sen. Ida G. Ruben of Montgomery County, a stadium opponent, wore a purple pantsuit on the floor of the Senate last week, although she did have the forthrightness to point out that she had voted against the stadium.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who took significant political heat for pushing the stadium funding, basked a bit yesterday. "A lot of people stood up to take a tough vote," he said.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who helped lead the fight to get funding for the Baltimore stadium - and state aid for the Washington Redskins stadium in Prince George's County - has watched with dismay as some stadium opponents have become Ravens boosters.

"It's a pretty good definition of the word hypocrisy," Taylor said.

Sen. Christopher Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat who was among the leaders of the anti-stadium effort five years ago, said he and his 8-year-old son have become Ravens backers.

"I'm a Ravens fan," Van Hollen said. "That doesn't mean anything about the stadium."

Maryland GOP scoring gains from election of Bush

The Maryland Republican Party is winning immediate dividends from the election of George W. Bush.

The state party will hold a major fund-raiser Thursday night in Washington to honor Bush.

Party officials are hopeful, but not certain, that the president-elect will drop by the event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building. They also expect some members of the Bush family, and possibly some of his incoming Cabinet, to show up.

Bush's sister, Doro Bush Koch, a resident of Montgomery County, is serving as the official hostess of the event.

Tickets cost $250 or $1,000.

Michael Steele, chairman of the Maryland GOP, said it was a new strategy for the party to have a Washington gala around the time of the presidential inauguration.

Steele said he hopes the event will net $50,000 for the state party.

"It kind of puts Maryland on the map," he said. "That's something I want to do nationally, so people will know Maryland is going to be a player down the road. This is our coming-out party."

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