On the march with another O'Malley

Peter O'Malley is comfortable in Martin's mayoral shadow, going about his business aiding campaigns and communities.

October 14, 2002|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

It's the same old political story. Behind every weight-lifting, band-leading, mayor dude of a brother is a younger, bashful, political-consulting dude of a brother. And the brothers look so much alike that someone might catch sight of the married mayor out with another woman, but it really was Martin O'Malley's lookalike sibling.

Introducing Peter O'Malley - the stealth younger brother of Mayor Martin O'Malley. Peter has been managing campaigns since the barely legal age of 19. He's managed his father's campaigns for state's attorney in Montgomery County. Currently, he manages the re-election campaign of State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., the mayor's father-in-law. In 1999, Peter ran his brother's mayoral campaign and later went to work at City Hall.

"Peter is an organizational savant," says the mayor, who relied on his brother for his advice and opinions on "pressing city issues." After two years, Peter left to do something on his own. "It's a huge void for us," the mayor says.

Peter O'Malley was the phantom co-organizer of Baltimore's CitiStat, a statistics-driven system of measuring the performance of municipal services. The other forces behind CitiStat were rightly noted in news stories as Mayor O'Malley, Deputy Mayor Michael Enright, and Peter O'Malley's mentor, the late police consultant Jack Maple. But you'd be hard-pressed to find the name Peter O'Malley in print.

"Peter has been undercover for three years," says his father, attorney Thomas O'Malley of Rockville, who clearly thinks it's high time his other son got some ink. "You can't walk around under a bushel barrel all the time."

Give Peter his props. The detail man is considered one of the sharpest political organizers and strategists in the tool box. But he has no plans to run for political office. Like the other men in his family, he's also a lawyer. But he has no plans to practice law. No big law firm for him. "No billable minutes," as he says. So, what does this O'Malley want?

"I'm trying to figure out what I should be doing in life," he says. "I want to make a difference. I like helping people."

Help people? Make a difference? While minding his own business?

Peter O'Malley sounds like his own man.

Behind the scenes (as usual), Peter Campbell O'Malley has been doing the campaign grunt work: targeting precincts, handling the candidate's schedule, understanding the demographics and getting out the message. "He knows how to package a product," candidate Curran says. His campaign manager also keeps tabs on lawn signs. O'Malley knows yard signs.

"I've put up thousands of them in the old days," he says.

What old days? The man is only 32. He's referring to when Martin O'Malley first ran for office in 1990 and lost by 44 votes to heavily favored state Sen. John Pica. Martin had asked 19-year-old Peter to run his shoestring campaign. Peter and others hand-colored precinct maps, and in their 1981 Malibu drove around town stabbing campaign signs into lawns. "A lot of signs are red and blue now, but we used Day-Glo green," Peter says. They lost that first campaign, but might have won the lawn sign battle. Two political stars were born that campaign, some say.

It's a seemingly little thing - the color of a campaign yard sign. But it's not. Where the signs go, what color they are, how many are needed and who's doing the work (most campaign signs are wire wicket now; no hammering necessary) are important details in a campaign. Somebody has to keep track of these things. Someone almost has to know what will happen before it happens.

Growing up in the very active and political O'Malley family, young Peter had a nickname: Radar. If big brother Martin or Patrick lost a baseball mitt, they would enlist Peter. Usually without saying a word, Peter would return with the mitt. Years later, when Peter would visit the mayor's house to see the kids, Peter seemed to know when a diaper or bottle was needed before mom and pop had a clue.

Jimmy's Restaurant in Fells Point - the site of "Governor Schaefer's" honorary round table - is as good a place as any to meet the younger O'Malley. At a window table, the tall, boyishly Catholic-school O'Malley awaits his breakfast lunch: pancakes and Coke. There had been no trouble recognizing him.

He could be Martin's stand-in. ("He's a good-looking kid," the mayor says.) They have the same pinchy eyes. Same pearly-white smile. Same short hair - long hair on O'Malley men must be defined as hair grown beyond the statutory limit of 1.5 inches. While the mayor would be at ease, Peter looks like a man dragged out of his private, fine life into this corner spotlight at Jimmy's. "I'm not comfortable as a front man," O'Malley says. "I think one politician in the family is enough."

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