O'Malley's playing Irish music

others say he's playing politics

September 17, 2005|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

And the band plays on.

Six months after Mayor Martin O'Malley said he was quitting his band, the Celtic rock ensemble is still jigging with no final gig in sight. Except, perhaps, Inauguration Day 2007.

The Web site for the mayor's band tells fans to keep checking for "farewell concert tour dates," that the prolonged send-off for O'Malley's March has "17 counties to go."

The band's only scheduled show, however, was for last night's Irish Festival at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore.

At that pace -- one show per month -- the seven-member band's final bow would come in January 2007, the month Maryland swears in its next governor, which O'Malley hopes to be.

The mayor laughed at the hypothetical political calculation, but his opponents are saying O'Malley is playing politics with a band that they say should be called Machiavelli's March. The mayor said the farewell tour note on the Web site is just a "tongue-in-cheek" joke about statewide sorrow over the breakup of a band he has fronted for 17 years.

"There's been a great deal of sadness throughout the state at the winding down of the illustrious musical journey of O'Malley's March," he said jokingly. "We've tried to soften that bad news by giving people hope that they have never seen ... " (he whispers to further his sarcasm) "quite the last of us."

His political opponents find nothing funny about the mayor's hobby as the band's singer, guitarist, songwriter and tin-whistler. They say O'Malley's announcement to sacrifice his musical passion for his political ambitions is disingenuous because he is still performing. They say his quitting was a political ploy to garner good press, and that the farewell tour is a thinly veiled campaign tactic.

Or maybe it's not so thinly veiled, considering that the band's Web site tells visitors, in the letter the mayor posted announcing his musical retirement, to "please log on" to his campaign homepage and sign up. A link takes visitors to O'Malley's campaign Web site.

Jody Couser, campaign spokeswoman for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, said it is clear that O'Malley is using his band to generate buzz and that he should have scrapped the band years ago to focus on the ills of Baltimore. O'Malley and Duncan are likely challengers for the state Democratic Party's nomination to take on Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in next year's election.

"Roughly six months ago, with much fanfare, Mayor Martin O'Malley announced he was retiring from the band to focus his creative energies on the city of Baltimore," Couser said. "Despite the crushing problems facing Baltimore city schools, the rising crime rate and a stagnant economy, the mayor now seems to believe that his creative energies are best spent with the band."

She also said that Duncan, in contrast, has spent his time meeting the people of Maryland, "listening to their ideas and concerns and sharing his vision for the state."

O'Malley, too, has been making the rounds throughout the state without his guitar, and he had hoped to keep his band mates out of politics.

"I'm trying to protect the band ... from unfriendly fire and political attacks," O'Malley said. "The band has committed no offense."

It's not O'Malley's band that has the Maryland Republican Party so concerned.

"We would recommend that he should have been working on behalf of the people of the city six years ago rather than fiddling in bars to all hours," said Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party. "Real leadership requires one to roll up their sleeves and do hard work rather than strumming a guitar and swilling beer."

O'Malley said he doubts he will play many more shows after tonight, which is the band's fourth performance since he announced his retirement. He said it may perform for charity, if asked, but that "we're pretty much winding down."

"This will be our last Irish Festival," O'Malley said, "until the reunion tour kicks in."

In the meantime, to weather the criticism, the mayor and his band mates may do well to heed O'Malley-penned lyrics for the band's song "Breastplate of St. Patrick":

"I call His power to be my shield this day against the cruel and merciless foes who block my way/ Against the works of smiths and wizzards and the black laws of pagans and the spells of evil souls who wish me ill."

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