Pick shows O'Malley learns from history

Big role is seen for Brown

analysis

December 13, 2005|By DAVID NITKIN | DAVID NITKIN,SUN REPORTER

Gubernatorial contender Martin O'Malley's selection of Del. Anthony G. Brown as a running mate shows that the Baltimore mayor has learned from the past, and has an eye on the future.

Recent Maryland political history offers instruction on what to do, and what not to do, when choosing a running mate. O'Malley seems to have absorbed lessons from predecessors about how to run the selection process, and what qualifications to look for in a partner. He formally introduced Brown, a Prince George's County Democrat, as his pick yesterday.

The freshest lesson came four years ago, when eventual Democratic nominee Kathleen Kennedy Townsend selected retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, the U.S. Naval Academy superintendent and former Pacific fleet commander, to join her team.

At the time, there were logical arguments why the choice made sense.

In the first post-9/11 election, Townsend selected someone with peerless security credentials. For Reagan Democrats who might not want to vote for a woman, here was a strong male political partner, and a military officer to boot. And by choosing someone outside the political arena, Townsend was an equal offender for all the Democratic politicians aspiring to the spot.

But the decision turned out to be disastrous. Larson was a lifelong Republican who switched parties to run. And he is white. African-American leaders in Maryland were furious. Even another apparent Townsend coup - keeping Larson's name secret until the announcement - soon became a blunder.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Townsend backer, said he knew the pick was a mistake from the beginning. He remains stunned that when he called the campaign to learn whether names he was hearing were credible, he was rebuffed.

"I was told, `Listen on the radio, and you will hear it,'" Cummings said.

O'Malley handled things differently. He sought opinions from Cummings and many other party leaders. He enlisted former Gov. Harry R. Hughes to lead the search.

And he chose a partner who reflects some of the diversity of Maryland. Brown is the product of the marriage between a Cuban father raised in Jamaica and a Swiss mother.

"It does not hurt that he is an African-American," Cummings said. "African-Americans in the Democratic Party want to see somebody on that level representing them, coming from that community."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. blazed the trail that led to that truism. The first statewide black elected official in Maryland is Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a former Republican Party chairman chosen by Ehrlich in 2002.

Even as he praised Brown as a valuable partner, O'Malley acknowledged yesterday that the selection was designed not to buck convention, but to build a successful campaign by the oft-discussed method of bringing together candidates of different races and from different ends of the state.

"There's one constant in electoral politics, and that is to appeal to as many people as possible," O'Malley said.

The history lessons available to O'Malley reach back before 2002.

In 1994, then-Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening went for star power when he picked Townsend, a Ruxton resident, for his Democratic ticket. Townsend brought an iconic maiden name and the potential of a national fundraising base to the race, along with important gender and geographic balance.

She helped Glendening win the contest and was instrumental in resuscitating Glendening's 1998 successful re-election effort after the governor plummeted in popularity.

Still, she had never been elected to office on her own (Townsend was defeated in her only previous race, a 1986 run for Congress), and had never cast a vote, passed a bill or run an agency. Placed in charge of juvenile justice, she steered the administration into trouble when revelations surfaced that boot-camp guards were beating young offenders.

The perception that she was something of a lightweight haunted her through eight years in office, and contributed to her defeat in the 2002 governor's race.

In Brown, O'Malley has found a candidate without those weaknesses. The House majority whip, Brown knows his way around Annapolis and has a stronger electoral, legislative and policy background than Townsend.

Glendening acknowledged the value of a school of thought that holds that gubernatorial contenders who haven't paid their dues in the capital should pick a State House insider as a running mate.

"When I ran, one of the questions people raised was, `You don't know the Annapolis scene,'" Glendening said. "Sometimes there is wisdom in conventional wisdom."

The choice of Brown shows that O'Malley also has an eye on the future. The delegate could prove valuable for both the next stage of the campaign, and the mayor's long-term ambitions.

With the General Assembly session beginning next month, Brown will play a key role in important legislation backed by the Democratic leadership. Democratic legislative accomplishments will thus, by extension, be viewed as accomplishments of the O'Malley-Brown team.

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