Mayor sings

silent on race

O'Malley's March performs for 3,000 at fund-raiser

March 25, 2002|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

With roughly 3,000 sweaty bodies steaming up the place yesterday afternoon, Martin O'Malley -- mayor, potential candidate for governor and, oh yeah, lead singer of his own Irish rock band -- walked on stage at Hammerjacks dressed all in black and immediately caught the crowd's attention.

"I've got an announcement to make," O'Malley said, a bit dramatically. Was this it? Would he announce for governor? In a T-shirt, no less?

After all, this was his fund-raiser-for-the-people, a $35- per-head exercise in beer-drinking, dancing and stage-managed populism.

"We just came out with our third smash-hit CD and it's on sale here today," O'Malley said.

It's not every fund-raiser where the guest of honor hawks his latest music (and then plays it), or where a 21-year-old woman from the audience gets up on stage and dances to the music of the Kelly Bell Band, yesterday's warm-up act.

And it certainly isn't every day that the band's lead singer, Kelly Bell, pumps up his audience by boasting about the city's declining homicide rate. "Like it or not," Bell said in introducing O'Malley, "the man's been doing wonderful things for this city."

The question is whether O'Malley, after a little more than two years as mayor, will stay with the city, or run for governor against the undeclared but presumed Democratic front-runner, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. O'Malley is seriously considering a run, though putting off a decision for now, at least publicly.

In the meantime, he's relishing the self-made role of populist Democrat, which he assumed again at yesterday's fund-raiser -- after plugging his CD -- by taking more potshots at the state's Democratic establishment.

"I'm going to continue to speak out for the people of Maryland and the people of this city," O'Malley said. "Whatever we decide to do, when we decide to do it, it won't be because somebody has bullied us, it won't be because somebody has threatened us, it won't be because somebody has rolled in here with a wad of money [trying to] buy us into a conspiracy of silence. ... The decision will be based on where we can make the greatest difference."

O'Malley also reflected on the 1999 mayoral race, when he entered as a huge underdog against two opponents with far higher name recognition and much stronger support at the polls: "We, at 40 percent name recognition, were 7 percent in the polls, and that's when we knew we had 'em," he said to laughter.

Moments later, the mayor and his band, O'Malley's March, began to play their tunes for the crowd. But, this being a fund-raiser, the crowd belonged to O'Malley before he walked on stage.

`Mrs. O'Malley'

Just ask Susan M. Muller, 43, of Canton, who wore an O'Malley sticker on the rear of her blue jeans, and a nametag that read "Mrs. O'Malley" affixed to her blouse.

"I wanna be," she explained cheerfully. "Just one night I wanna be Mrs. O'Malley."

But Muller, who is married to a city firefighter, wants the mayor to stay close to home, in the city -- "not governor, not yet," she said.

She seemed to be in the minority on that point yesterday. To Odette Williams, 40, governor is "the natural next step."

"Then he could become president," Williams said.

And why does she like him so much? "I think he does good work and he's cute. I've watched him play in his band and oh, wow!" she said, then playfully grabbing her biceps to demonstrate her appreciation for the mayor's physique. "I guess that's true for most women."

Like Muller and Williams, some attended the event because they know people who worked for the mayor, for the city government or on O'Malley's 1999 campaign.

Elected officials showed up, as well, with 11 state legislators in attendance from the Baltimore area, as well as seven members of the City Council and two county executives. O'Malley's mother also brought a busload of supporters from Montgomery County.

And others, like Kristin H. Carpenter of Reisterstown, attended because their friend or relative's company or law firm bought a bunch of tickets. Carpenter, a 21-year-old mortgage broker, was invited on stage by Kelly Bell.

`Let loose'

"I didn't expect this at a fund-raiser," said Carpenter, who danced with abandon on stage. "That was fun. ... I've got to let loose once in a while."

And what does she think of the mayor of Baltimore?

"I've never heard him play," she said before the mayor got on stage, admitting she doesn't follow politics closely. "I'm looking forward to it, though."

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