Me and Martin O’Malley
Posted by David Keelan on Friday, July 7, 2006
I first met Martin O’Malley in February 1997 at an event that was hosted by the Baltimore St. Patrick Parade. The event was called ShamROCK. ShamROCK was an Irish Rock n Roll concert and O’Malley’s March had been participating in the event for a number of years. O’Malley’s March at that time was a decent draw, but by no means a main attraction. O’Malley played that evening and after his gig we actually spent about an hour together talking. Not that he was interested in me or had more than a couple of words for me. I was in the company of two very attractive young ladies and O’Malley had their full attention and they had his.
When we left ShamRock that evening my friends were impressed with the handsome, young, flirtation, Irish musician.
I next met Martin O’Malley in 1998 at Mick O’Shea’s pub on N. Charles Street in Baltimore. At the time I was organizing ShamROCK for the Baltimore St. Patrick Parade. I hadn’t realized it in 1997, but O’Malley was a City Councilman representing the 3rd district. He was a good supporter of the Irish community and helped where he could.
At this meeting we were in desperate need of a location to hold ShamROCK. O’Malley met with us to help us locate a venue. At the meeting he was very insistent that we go to Bohager’s. Damien Bohager was a very good supporter of Martin O’Malley’s political career at the time. We resisted Bohager’s because the terms were not very favorable and we didn’t think we could make enough money to justify the time and effort to organize the event. I remember O’Malley was insistent and we were resistant. When I pressed our point O’Malley turned to me and said “Excuse me but we haven’t met. I am Martin O’Malley. WHO are you?” We walked away from the meeting without a venue.
The run up to the election for Mayor was pretty intense. O’Malley had two challengers in the primary. Carl Stokes and President of the City Council – Bell. Stokes and Bell’s campaigns imploded and O’Malley won the primary with over 50% of the vote. I remember it well as I lived in Baltimore City at the time. The Irish community was so excited for our boy Martin. I was too. It was a great thing. He was likable, charismatic, Irish, a supporter of our community, he knew me by name. Then I saw him on TV debating his Republican challenger. That is when my opinion started to change. The smugness of his in that debate. He knew that winning the primary was tantamount to winning the election. A republican doesn’t stand a chance in Baltimore City and he knew it. The republican new it too. However, the republican was articulate, knew the problems, he had sound ideas to solve problems and O’Malley looked bad. But it didn’t matter. He was already Mayor elect.
We eventually did hold ShamROCK at Bohager’s in 2000. However, we held it at the old Bohager’s since Damien had moved the location of his business under the huge tent that used to sit in Fells Point. The terms of the arrangement were not very favorable, but Damien had us over a barrel – our original venue was closed by the fire department. O’Malley’s March played and I once again met O’Malley during the sound check. After O’Malley left the sound crew said to me… “Good thing he is Mayor, because he isn’t a very good singer.” That evening he packed the place. The sheen hadn’t worn off yet, and we made a lot of money for the parade that evening.
In 2001 I became Chairman of the Baltimore St. Patrick Parade. Now at that time the Irish community was bitching about the $14,000 the city charged us to hold the parade even though we brought in tens of thousands of people into the city for the event. In a good year we can have 75,000 people and that generates a lot of tax revenue for the city and we didn’t feel that we were being treated appropriately. As the new chairman I took this to heart and I contacted Anne Arundel County about holding the parade just outside city limits. The conversations were meant to be strictly confidential. Two weeks into our discussions it hit the Glen Burnie newspapers. I was pissed. Then word came to me that O’Malley was pissed too. Janet Owen’s came up to him in a meeting and bragged that she was going to take the parade away from him.
O’Malley reportedly said he was going to hold his own parade. I told the messenger to tell O’Malley it would be a lot cheaper to waive the $14,000 rather than spend $40,000 to hold a parade (we actually spend well over $120,000 on the parade). O’Malley wouldn’t talk to me. He worked through the Irish Community and finally I had a meeting with one of the Deputy Mayor’s. All he wanted to know was “Are you going to keep the parade in the City?” Well after agreeing to cut the city bill in ½ I agreed to quit talking to other jurisdictions. From then on O’Malley wasn’t very pleased with me. We ran into each other at Irish events, I was invited to Irish events at city hall (when the President of Ireland and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce came to Baltimore) mostly because my friends in the Irish community put the invite lists together and were sure to include me.
O’Malley was pleasant enough over the next few years. He still remembered my name. However, that changed when I asked to speak with him regarding how other city governments capitalized on their St. Patrick Day Parade’s. Take a look at Savannah, GA not large and not that Irish but they have one of the best parade’s in the USA and it generates a lot of money for the city because the city also hosts a festival before, during and after the parade. Tourists flock to the event. Why couldn’t we do that in Baltimore?
I prevailed upon a mutual friend to get a 15 minute call with O’Malley. I got the 15 minute call, but not his attention, and he was none to pleased that I got that audience. He didn’t listen to my pitch at all. I didn’t expect him to do anything but to prevail upon the Baltimore Office of Promotions to work with us on building up the parade with a festival. No go. He didn’t go for it. Ok. He is the Mayor of Baltimore with a lot on his mind. I understood, but it was worth a try.
Over the next couple of years when ever city hall needed a bag pipe band they called me for help. When they had the inaugural Martin Luther King Day Parade and all the bag pipe bands wouldn’t show because they were already committed guess who got Martin O’Malley a bag pipe band? That is right. Me. O’Malley wasn’t asking me for help, but his staff knew I was a go to guy in the Irish Community and if they wanted an Irish touch to something that involved the Mayor and a public event they would do their best and when they ran into a wall I got the call.
On another occasion I was at a parade pub fundraiser and a friend of Martin’s was playing music for the event. Martin showed up to see his friend. After his friend finished his set they sat for a pint. I sat down with them a few minutes later and O’Malley was blasting away at Bob Ehrlich for spreading rumors about Martin’s alleged infidelities. This was 2003. Then Martin started blasting away at Peter Angelos for spreading the same rumors, then he started blasting away at a mutual friend for spreading the rumors. This friend happens to be a friend of Bob Ehrlich’s too. At that point I said “Hold on. The person you are referring to is your friend, his wife and your wife hang out, as do your kids. Besides that I know this person is of great character and wouldn’t participate in that type of innuendo.” I never saw anyone back track so fast.
Now some background on the innuendo (no Steffan stuff here). During that time period when ever I walked into a pub fundraiser people were talking about these rumors. At that time these rumors were about two years old. I won’t go into what I was told and by who because it isn’t my business. However, I bit my tongue about Ehrlich. I don’t know Angelos But when accusing a mutual friend who I know is not capable of that kind of behavior I had to say something.
Up to that point I had nothing against O’Malley.
However, I was soon to learn how petty Mayor O’Malley could be. Obviously we weren’t getting along.
All the sudden he can’t remember my name. Whenever I was in his presence at an Irish event he was sure to lavish praise on everyone for a wonderful parade except me. I am not paranoid. It was deliberate, silly, and petty. For example, during the installation ceremony at the Basilica we were installing our Grand Marshal for that year’s parade. O’Malley said twice to her “You do a great job organizing the parade?” He said it twice because I am sure he didn’t think I heard it the first time. Now, Martin knew the Grand Marshal very very well. When he needed something from the Irish community he went directly to her and he knew that she never had any thing to do with the organization of the parade, but he knew very well that I did.
The last time I talked to Martin O’Malley was at the 2004 Friendly Sons of St. Patrick lunch the day before that year’s parade. The only thing he wanted to know from me was if I was going to let the movie “Ladder 49” film the parade. I said yes. He said good and walked away.
If you ever attended a Friendly Sons lunch you would be impressed. Anyone who is anyone is there. Bob Ehrlich attends with friends every year and he sits on the floor with his friends and refuses a seat at the dais. O’Malley always gets there before Ehrlich. O’Malley is introduced, works the crowd and gets warm applause. Ehrlich walks in and the place goes wild. He gets a standing ovation, and loud sustained applause. It burns O’Malley up. After all – these are his people. This is his community. He gets a warm welcome and the place goes wild for Ehrlich. I love the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Lunch.
In summary in my position in the Irish community I always tried to help O’Malley when asked. I didn’t care about some of the things that happened (I am sure he doesn’t even remember them). I liked the guy, kinda. He was a member of the community. I helped when asked.
Now as for his performance as mayor. He has a tough tough job. He doesn’t do it very well and he whines about it and blames others. It is never his fault – ever. I can’t remember a time when he actually accepted responsibility for a city failure. However, he is quick to put the blame on others or point out their mistakes.
Maybe it is a lot simpler than that. Maybe. Just maybe I am just as petty as he is.