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Baltimore protests linger as issue in Martin O'Malley’s presidential candidacy

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks during an event to announce that he is entering the Democratic presidential race, on Saturday in Baltimore.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks during an event to announce that he is entering the Democratic presidential race, on Saturday in Baltimore. Associated Press

Martin O'Malley launched his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination Saturday in the heart of the city he once led. But Baltimore today confronts an image far different from the one O'Malley left behind when his term as mayor ended eight years ago.

The city has been rocked by killings and riots and has become a national symbol of urban turmoil and despair.

O'Malley, 52, confronted the controversy Saturday as he has since parts of West Baltimore erupted in protest last month over the death of Freddie Gray, an African-American man who died in police custody.

Critics charged that his anti-crime policies alienated that constituency. O'Malley vigorously disagreed, and spent much of his speech Saturday addressing the concerns.

“For all of us who have given so much of our energies to making our city a safer, fairer, more just and more prosperous place, it was a heartbreaking night in the life of our city,” he said. “But there is something to be learned from that night, and there is something to be offered to our country from those flames.”

Baltimore’s agony, O'Malley told an audience of about 600, was “not only about race; not only about policing in America. It’s about everything it is supposed to mean to be an American.”

He talked about income inequality, poverty and how too many people have too little hope. He sais he would be their champion, beholden not to Wall Street but to working class people.

“Tell me how it is you can get pulled over for a broken taillight in our country, but if you wreck the nation’s economy you are untouchable,” O'Malley

Protesters shouted from nearby.

“Black men and women no longer feel safe walking around this city because of him,” said Tawanda Jones, a Baltimore teacher. Owen Anders, another teacher, said O'Malley would be a “very poor president. His current policies have helped lead to the deaths of hundreds of black Americans.”

No mayor of a major American city has gone directly to the White House. The last major political figure who tried, New York’s Rudolph Giuliani, went nowhere in 2008’s Republican primaries. President Obama was a community organizer and a state senator representing a Chicago district, but never ran a city.

Big-city mayors often falter on the national stage because they deal with issues and serve constituencies that don’t mirror the demographic makeup of the nation as a whole. O'Malley remains a longshot, barely visible in Democratic presidential polls behind front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, and he does not appear to have the passionate liberal following of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

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