It's Code Green for the new mayor

Sun Staff

Mayor Martin O'Malley, with one hand on his guitar and the other on a cell phone, juggled his City Hall duties with his devotion to Irish music yesterday, attending St. Patrick's Day Mass in a historic church, singing with his Celtic rock band at a Baltimore megabar, serenading senior citizens in a nursing home and lobbying the governor of Maryland for more state funds for the city.

It was O'Malley's 102nd day in office, and it did not end until last night, when he and his band, O'Malley's March, were due to perform at Mick O'Shea's, the Irish pub on North Charles Street.

And that was after the mayor, out of his business suit and into black jeans, managed a happy-hour set with his band inside Bohager's huge concert hall-bar on South Eden Street.

O'Malley will stay in Code Green until tomorrow, when he's due to be grand marshal of Baltimore's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, then perform another four-hour show with his band at Bohager's.

In between, he's due to perform a Saturday night set, again at Mick O'Shea's.

It sounds like a schedule that would leave most mortals short of breath, but not O'Malley.

This has always been his high season as an Irish-American singer and songwriter, but it was his first St. Patrick's Day as mayor. He wears his Irish passions on his sleeve -- assuming he's not performing with O'Malley's March in his signature sleeveless T -- but he dismissed rumors that he intended to have St. Patrick's Day declared an official city holiday.

"That's an urban myth," he said.

But he ordered the washing of the Washington Monument in green lights last night, and he pushed his Friday schedule as hard as he could to squeeze his traditional St. Patrick's Day rituals onto the mayoral calendar.

O'Malley's day had started with 10 o'clock Mass in Upper Fells Point, where he found a seat that had been saved for his last-minute arrival in St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, the oldest active Catholic parish in Baltimore.

It was packed with Irish-Americans from the city and well beyond. They filled the pews and the corners of the church, stood with their backs against the doors, and chatted happily about old friends and trips to Ireland as they awaited the start of the Mass in honor of their patron saint.

A pipe-and-drum unit, called Nafaina, played "Minstrel Boy" to lead the priests to the sanctuary. For a brief and lovely moment, wind through the entrance of St. Patrick's caught the green-white-and-orange flag of the Republic of Ireland, unfurled it from a bearer's staff and blew the flag toward the altar of the old church.

Top of the morningReflecting the changes that have taken place in Upper Fells Point the past few decades, the pastor, the Rev. James Gilmour, offered greetings in Spanish and in English. Then the Rev. Jeremiah F. Kenney, a monsignor representing the archdiocese, offered his in Gaelic and English. "Top of the morning to you," he said.

This was a day, Kenney said, to recall the struggles of ancestors and to "celebrate our diversity and our unity." It was day for Irish stories and poetry, he said, offering both, amusing worshipers with some, nudging them to silent reflection with others.

"We are people of poetry," said Kenney, the son of Irish immigrants. "We are people of strength. We are people of opinion and we are people of conviction."

All of which might have described Baltimore's new mayor, sitting just 25 feet away, in his first 100 days.

Later during Mass, as Kenney recited prayers over the Eucharist, the solemn air was broken by the sudden whoop of a police siren from South Broadway, a reminder of the troubles of Martin O'Malley's city and the attack on crime that has become the focus of his first three months in office.

Songs at nursing homeAfter Mass, O'Malley hustled off in a Ford Expedition to do something he's done in years past to political advantage -- singing old Irish songs for residents of a nursing home.

O'Malley had originally been scheduled to perform at Good Samaritan Nursing Center in Northeast Baltimore at 2 p.m., but because of his date with Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the time of his appearancce was moved to 11:15 a.m. He did not start playing until almost noon -- the exact hour his schedule had him as a guest on Marc Steiner's radio show on WJHU-FM.

O'Malley was supposed to perform with two members of his band on the Steiner show, but the prospects of that looked increasingly grim as the mayor stepped briskly, to great applause, into the Lake Unit of Good Samaritan Nursing Center.

It was a bright room with large windows, filled with elderly men and women in wheelchairs. There were shamrock decals on the windows and cardboard leprechauns hanging from the ceiling. In the front row of wheelchairs, an old woman with white hair wore a silly St. Patrick's headband, with two plastic shamrocks bobbing on springs.

"How many Irish people do we have here?" O'Malley asked.

A few hands went up.

"Everybody's Irish today, right?"

O'Malley pulled off his overcoat and suit jacket and strapped on his acoustic guitar. Behind him, already in place with a bass guitar, was Gary Slavinsky, the pony-tailed music therapist at Good Samaritan who accompanied O'Malley for the first time yesterday.

"Come with me," O'Malley started in, "and I'll take you to the land of our fathers."

Reaching the high notesHe sang in the soft tenor that is sometimes hard to appreciate when he performs with O'Malley's March. Standing there, with only his guitar and the bass for accompaniment, the mayor sounded at ease, happy and pleasant. He visited some high notes perfectly, as if he had reached them many times before. "My old stuff," he calls the songs, such as "When Irish Eyes Are Smilin'," that he sang for the residents of Good Samaritan. With his guitar, O'Malley visited nursing homes in Northeast Baltimore when he campaigned for -- and almost won -- a seat in the state Senate in 1990, and again when he ran for Baltimore City Council.

"God bless you folks for having such great taste in Irish music," he said yesterday. "I'm supposed to be on the Marc Steiner show right now, but I'm having more fun here."

He pulled the seniors into a sing-along, asking them to join in the refrain, "My father's making me merry, merry mack." He led the singing of "Happy Birthday" for Elliot Cahan, the administrator of the nursing center.

"One last song, then I gotta go catch up with Marc Steiner," O'Malley said, starting another peppy medley of Irish tunes. The Steiner appointment seemed to be slipping away.

Something to rememberIn an outer hallway, Verna Kindle, who works as an advocate for senior citizens, marveled at the mayor in shirtsleeves taking time away from the city's troubles to sing for nursing home residents. "I think this is the best thing that has happened to the city," Kindle said. "I don't know what it is [about O'Malley], but for these senior citizens he's sparked something. Something they remember."

If it's a sense of vigor for politics, government and people, O'Malley seems to have a ton of it.

"We'll do one more, then we'll go see Marc Steiner," O'Malley announced at 12:35.

Then he sang, "Oh, Danny Boy," and if he hadn't won the room, that song might have clinched it. As O'Malley sang the final line, "And I will sleep in peace until you come to me," a middle-aged woman was heard to say, "He's adorable."

O'Malley never made the Steiner show, but managed a 15-minute phone call with the host as his Ford Expedition moved across Northeast Baltimore, on the way back to City Hall, that appointment with the governor, and a long weekend of rockin' Irish.

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