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Rock and politics take center stage

They came out because one chapter in the life and times of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley is coming to a close - just as another appears to be opening.

More than 3,100 tickets were sold for O'Malley's fifth annual St. Patrick's Day Celebration and fund-raiser. Some turned out for the event at Rams Head Live yesterday to see the mayor in one of his last appearances fronting the Irish rock band O'Malley's March, some to back his all-but-announced run for governor next year, some to do both.

"I support O'Malley," said Bill McDaniel, 63, who lives in New Freedom, Pa., but works in the city. "I like what he stands for. He seems to be on top of everything."

As for the band, which the mayor said last week he was leaving to devote all his time to matters of city and state, McDaniel said it's "all right."

"I'm an old guy," said McDaniel. "Loud music blows my ears out. And I can't dance because of a bad knee."

Diane Alley of South Baltimore, on the other hand, said she was there to see the mayor play music.

"I never saw him play," said Alley. "I figured if he's going to be stepping down, I wanted to see him."

As for next year's gubernatorial contest, a race the mayor has been saying for weeks he is "laying the groundwork" for, Alley said, "I like Mr. O'Malley, but I have to tell you, I'm not a registered voter."

But if O'Malley were in a race against Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., she added, "I might register."

O'Malley didn't disappoint those who came for politics or music, offering a dose of both.

Just before the band roared through an hourlong set, O'Malley, dressed in a black, short-sleeve T-shirt, rather than his signature sleeveless style, thanked the crowd for past support and for "being ready for the next thing to come."

He urged them to pick up new green-and-white "O'Malley for Governor" bumper stickers and campaign volunteer cards.

"You and I know that Maryland can do better," he said. "This is a great state. There is more for us to do together."

Asked later whether the bumper stickers amounted to a declaration of candidacy, mayoral spokesman Steve Kearney smiled and said, "It's not a declaration. It's part of laying the groundwork."

Midway through his set, the mayor invited Del. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who was one of several city and state legislators at the event, to join him on stage in a cover of the Van Morrison classic "Brown Eyed Girl."

"We're teaching the legislature to sing together," O'Malley said.

After he left the stage, Zirkin said he supports O'Malley, who is expected to face Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

"He's got guts, he's got vision, he's got leadership," said Zirkin, reeling off the reasons for his support.

Tickets to the event were $40, up $5 from last year. The nearly $125,000 raised, minus expenses, will go into O'Malley's political treasury - which currently holds about $1 million.

In addition to the set by O'Malley's March and the political pitch, ticket-holders got to eat heaps of Irish food, quaff beer in plastic cups, mingle through the recently opened two-floor club and listen to two hours of warm-up by blues group the Kelly Bell Band.

Some made the event a family affair, bringing children as young as 10 months.

Mary Ashland of Ellicott City came with her two preteen sons. Ashland, who said her sons are autistic, said she wanted to know what O'Malley's policies on disabilities were before she supported him but allowed: "I wanted to see the band. I've never seen the band."

John Berry, who moved to Federal Hill from Northern Virginia 1 1/2 years ago, had seen O'Malley play before. But he said the event was a "last chance to see him in his rock 'n' roll mode."

"We also support him politically," added his wife, Anna Berry. "It would be bad for Baltimore to have him leave as mayor, but it's also bad for Baltimore to have Ehrlich as governor."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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