Five years after becoming one of Baltimore's youngest mayors, Martin O'Malley declared himself "older, grayer and humbled by setbacks" but determined as ever to move the city forward as he was sworn in for a second term yesterday.
"We gather today to declare that our work is not done," the 41-year-old O'Malley told a crowd of more than 500 inside the War Memorial Building. "Our work is not done, because better isn't good enough."
Sworn in amid sunshine and high hopes in 1999, O'Malley saw his second inauguration beset by chilly rain and some unfulfilled promises - significantly reducing Baltimore's high homicide numbers chief among them.
But with the mayor claiming success on many other fronts, the setting inside the War Memorial helped convey his theme that Baltimore is fighting, and winning, a battle to become safer, cleaner and a better place for children to grow up.
"This battle for Baltimore - this noble battle which we freely choose to wage - will not be carried for us by others," said O'Malley, who invoked Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in his speech.
"Nor is it a cause that can be won in these short years ahead. It is, nonetheless, a cause every bit as important to the conscience of our country as it is to the future of Baltimore's children."
O'Malley was joined on stage by Maryland's two U.S. senators, state and local dignitaries, and religious leaders. But his immediate family, wife Katie Curran O'Malley and their four children, provided the most intimate testimonials.
The three oldest children - Grace, 13, Tara, 12 and William, 7 - took turns addressing the crowd. Only Jack, 2, scampered off stage.
"He's a very good mayor and he's a very good dad and he's good at running the city," said William, the top of his head barely visible over the podium. "Thank you."
Katie O'Malley, a District Court judge, said her husband was a "very tough man" in a "tough job." She also said the mayor had made mistakes but had learned from them.
"He is not perfect, but none of us are," she said. "And the city is not perfect. But if we all work together, I promise you we can be a better place, and we are a better place."
The oath of office was administered by Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr., a write-in candidate for mayor who acknowledged to the crowd that he had expected to be the one sworn in.
"Judge O'Malley said it perfectly: `We all make mistakes,'" Conaway said. "Seems like I made a big one."
O'Malley won last month with 87 percent of the vote, after campaigning on gains including higher property values, improved elementary school test scores, slower population loss and lower crime.
Five years earlier, the then-City Council member and former prosecutor won the office on a promise to reduce the number of annual homicides in Baltimore to 175 - down from the 300 a year the city had suffered for a decade.
The number fell early in O'Malley's tenure but never dropped below 253. It is increasing this year, with 266 as of yesterday afternoon, compared with 247 by this time last year.
Even with the homicide goal unmet and recurring troubles at the helm of the Police Department - O'Malley is on his fourth police commissioner - the mayor is widely seen as an up-and-coming politician.
He has gained national attention as an outspoken advocate for more federal homeland security aid to cities, and collected prestigious awards for CitiStat, a computerized system for tracking municipal efficiency.
O'Malley is considered likely to run for governor in 2006, before his three-year term - shortened because local elections were rescheduled - is up. (His first term was five years because of a previous change to the election schedule.)
But there was no talk - at least over the microphone - of him moving to higher office at the War Memorial or at the Maryland Science Center, where hundreds of O'Malley supporters gathered to celebrate.
"Inaugurations are important. It's a time for the mayor to renew his commitment to the city," said Kweisi Mfume, the former City Council member and congressman who resigned last week as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"I'm just hoping this moment goes beyond these four walls and grabs at the hearts of all Baltimoreans, to recognize this is a time for renewal."
Sun staff writers Eric Siegel and Ryan Davis contributed to this article.