By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
4:35 PM EDT, May 14, 2013
I saw it with my own eyes -- Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley standing centerstage Tuesday in the Oval Office.
Only it wasn't the one in Washington. It did, though, make for a light but fascinating kind of political-pop-culture-meta moment.
O'Malley was in Harford County to visit the set of "House of Cards," the $100 million Netflix political thriller starring Kevin Spacey. The reason for the visit as the cast and crew settles in to film Season 2 was to highlight the success of a state film incentives program backed by O'Malley that has brought such award-winning productions as HBO's "Game Change" and "VEEP" as well as "House of Cards" to Maryland. It's also brought thousands of jobs the last three years to what was a decimated TV and film production comunity once "The Wire" ended in 2007.
Near the end of O'Malley's tour of the sprawling sets and soundstages, screenwriter and executive producer Beau Willimon showed him into the Oval Office set.
Willimon proudly explained the accuracy of detail in the office and the fact that it took so much wood to build that one lumber company owner said not only did "House of Cards" give him his best year ever in sales, it helped him hire four extra workers.
But almost no one in the entourage of aides, actors, crew members or state officials appeared to be listening. They were focused on O'Malley standing in the center of the room. They were looking at O'Malley, the politician widely seen as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.
"So, I could come out and do some campaign shots?" O'Malley quipped.
"It suits you," one of the producers said.
"Thank you for that," O'Malley replied.
The governor didn't get to sit behind the presidential desk, because the desk, the chair and most of the rug with the presidential seal were covered in thick plastic. The set was not in use Tuesday. But Willimon did take O'Malley and the entourage to the first floor of the make-believe home of Francis Underwood (Spacey) and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), where Wright was filming a scene.
Tuesday was mostly a dog and pony show, featuring celebrities and staged scenes.
For example, Spacey, Willimon and O'Malley were posed in front of a group of union crew members -- Maryland residents who have found steady employment since "Cards" came to town -- to deliver remarks about the importance of state-supported incentives.
I get the staging, believe me.
But I am totally OK with it, because I have been reporting from the grass roots level the real story on which Tuesday's psuedo-event was based. And it's based on the truth. Hundreds have found steady jobs on sets like the one O'Malley visited. And thousands have found limited work as well. And tens of millions of dollars have been spent with Maryland vendors.
It's the same story with "VEEP" in Columbia. Ditto for "House of Cards" in Baltimore. Incentives have been good for Maryland.
I talked to some of the workers Tuesday after the entourage had moved on. I heard the same things that I have been hearing the last three years in stories that I reported on my own.
Sharif Salama, a craft services worker, who lives in Edgewood, says he's been working steadily on "House of Cards" and "VEEP" the last two years.
"So, I'm working here and then switching over to 'VEEP' when it comes back," Salama said. "And then, hopefully, I'm coming back to 'House of Cards' again if it comes back for a third season. I was joking this morning about how my college buddies went to L.A. to chase the [showbiz] dream. But the dream came here, and I got the lucky end of it."
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