"It was a large sacrifice on his part, in the sense that he did not have to do this," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.
"He could have run and stirred the pot. It would have enhanced his name recognition for a future race, while developing a statewide base of supporters and party workers and poll workers," Miller said. "Democrats should congratulate him and thank him."
FOR THE RECORD - An article and photo caption in yesterday's editions incorrectly identified Catherine O'Malley as a Baltimore circuit judge. She is a district judge.
Said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.: "It's exactly what I expected him to do. I'm glad he finally did it." Democrats can now "begin our team-building much quicker," he said.
"I think he made the right decision for himself and for his family," said NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who brushed aside the mayor's jabs at Townsend and other Democrats. "I don't think he meant to suggest there is no one who can provide that leadership," he said.
Although O'Malley's political aspirations clearly extend beyond City Hall, he would have faced a challenging contest against Townsend, the daughter of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. She has collected more than $6 million for her gubernatorial bid and holds a healthy lead over the mayor in polls.
"It would have been all but impossible to beat a Kennedy in a Democratic primary," Ehrlich said.
Many of Maryland's leading politicians who openly considered running against her had already reached that conclusion, including Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.
"The city of Baltimore is going to support Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. That's been clear for some time now," said Duncan, who has endorsed Townsend.
"It became very clear that if he got in the race, it would be in the role of a spoiler and would have hurt her in the general election."
Schaefer weighs in
State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the former mayor and governor, said O'Malley's exploratory forays outside Baltimore were unsuccessful. "He went around the state and found out he wasn't as popular as he thought he was," Schaefer said.
Only the mayor's staunchest supporters offered a different view. "I don't think Martin loses a race he gets into," said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., O'Malley's father-in-law.
With no significant challengers on the September ballot, Ehrlich and Townsend are free to prepare messages that will appeal to the moderate swing voters needed to win November's general election, instead of the more ideologically driven faithful who turn out for primaries.
"O'Malley could have been Townsend's worst nightmare," said Keith Haller, a Bethesda-based pollster. "He had that potential to get the limelight and go after her on a variety of fronts.
"The practical effect is that she will not have to spend $3 million to $4 million in a very competitive, knock-down, drag-out fight to win the Democratic nomination," Haller said. "She has the ability to save the resources and focus on a general election strategy."
Donald Norris, a public policy professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, agreed. "Now [Townsend] has an additional three months to prepare her case against Ehrlich," Norris said.
O'Malley used his speech to reflect not only on his political future, but on his accomplishments and his vision for the city.
"No longer the most violent and addicted city in America, Baltimore now leads the nation in the rate of reduction of violent crime," he said.
"Our first-graders are scoring above the national average in reading and math for the first time in 30 years," he said. "And the highest-scoring fifth-grade math class in the entire state of Maryland: none other than ... the 100 percent proud, African-American kids of our own Mount Royal Elementary School."
He also made mention of his friend Paul Levin, a member of the band O'Malley's March who died last week. "Your problem, Martin, is you're drawn to the toughest fights," the mayor recalled Levin saying. "But serving Baltimore now is the tougher of the two fights you weigh."
O'Malley said he would work to make Baltimore a city "where our children are safe, a city where our children are loved and where children are raised to love."
Soon, the city will have one more youngster. As his pregnant wife, Baltimore Circuit Judge Catherine O'Malley, sat in a folding chair to the left of the podium, O'Malley announced that the family's fourth child will be a boy.
Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.