Mayor asked to speak in Boston

Only Marylander to talk at Democratic convention

Speech could lift national profile

Cities' homeland security role seen as his key theme

Election 2004

July 14, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley will be a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Boston this month, when he will have a chance to raise his national profile and air complaints about the burden of homeland security on American cities.

O'Malley was the only mayor and the only Marylander included on a list of about a dozen speakers announced yesterday by the convention committee.

He is slated to talk July 28, the next-to-last day of the four-day convention and the same day that Sen. John Edwards, the presumptive vice presidential nominee, will give his address. Sen. John Kerry will speak the next night, when he is expected to formally accept the party's presidential nomination.

"Mayor O'Malley's overwhelming support for first-responders and leadership in homeland security make him the perfect speaker on Wednesday to represent John Kerry's vision of a stronger, more secure America," said Lina Garcia, press secretary for the convention.

O'Malley, who was in Ireland yesterday on tour with his Celtic rock band, issued a statement saying he was honored to have been asked to speak on behalf of Kerry - and America's mayors.

"Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards understand that America's cities are on the front line for homeland security," the statement said. "They will provide our firefighters and police officers with the support that has been lacking since September 11, 2001."

Just how much national exposure the speech gives O'Malley will depend on what hour of the day it is delivered, with later being better for the mayor, political observers say.

O'Malley's address has not been scheduled and could be the first speech of the day, at 4 p.m., Garcia said. The speeches are expected to continue until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. each day.

But Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said it was his understanding that the mayor would be slotted for "at least 7 p.m. on."

"It's very exciting for Maryland whenever one of our hometown folks has a chance to have a prime-time speaking part and will highlight Maryland nationally and have an opportunity to talk about what's happening in our state," White said.

With television networks cutting back on the amount of coverage they are giving conventions, even a prime-time speaking slot does not necessarily mean a national audience, said Kenneth Mayer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin and an expert in the American presidency.

"The three major networks are giving a total of three hours each of prime-time coverage," he said. That probably will boil down to Kerry's and Edwards' speeches, plus one nominating address for each of the candidates, Mayer predicted.

Unless O'Malley immediately precedes Edwards, his speech is likely to air only on C-SPAN and other cable channels, Mayer said.

"If he's giving the nomination speech, then that's a big deal," Mayer said. Otherwise, he said, "most of the rest of the country is not even going to be aware of it. Inside the Beltway, in that corridor, it's going to get some notice. But in St. Louis or Chicago or San Francisco, the reaction would be the same as the reaction would be in Baltimore if the speaker was the mayor of Seattle."

Even so, being selected to speak is a feather in O'Malley's political cap, supporters say. This is not the first time that national Democratic leaders have put the spotlight on O'Malley, 41, a telegenic and outspoken advocate for more federal homeland security aid to local jurisdictions. The first-term mayor, who is said to have presidential ambitions of his own, was selected in January 2003 to give the Democratic rebuttal to President Bush's weekly radio address.

By featuring O'Malley, Kerry's campaign signaled it had no qualms about comments that recently brought the mayor flak on some conservative local and national talk shows.

At a million-dollar fund-raiser for Kerry's presidential campaign at M&T Bank Stadium last month, the mayor said he was more worried about the "actions and inactions of the Bush administration" than he was about al-Qaida. Elaborating later, O'Malley said Bush's foreign policy has created more enemies for America and his domestic policies have forced cities to spend money they cannot afford to prepare for terrorist attacks.

Others scheduled to speak at the convention include former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

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