O'Malley's speech doesn't go far

BOSTON — Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley brought his prescription for improving homeland security to the Democratic convention last night, but his short speech was rewarded with only modest applause outside the Maryland delegation and a snub from major broadcast and cable television networks.

Many in the FleetCenter spent the duration of O'Malley's speech, which did air on C-SPAN, moving about the arena, their chatter building to a noisy rumble. Plus, an apparent microphone glitch meant the mayor's remarks barely drifted up to the nose-bleed seats filled with spillover crowds of delegates and guests from Maryland and the rest of the country.


Kumar P. Barve, majority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, said he tried to hear O'Malley, but seated high in the arena he couldn't make out what the mayor was saying.

"I thought he looked good but his words didn't carry up here," said Barve, a Montgomery County lawmaker.


The mayor, looking a bit nervous and sounding slightly hoarse, spoke immediately after an impassioned address by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, a hard act to follow under the best of circumstances.

Jackson's words, culminating in his signature "Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive!" battle cry, received wide network coverage, but those outlets switched immediately after to one-on-one interviews with political figures such as Jackson's congressman son and comedian/liberal activist Al Franken, or aired commercials.

Down on the floor of the FleetCenter, rows of Marylanders listened raptly to the mayor, some 50 of them wearing white T-shirts with O'Malley's name and a bright green swoosh. They made an appreciative audience.

"I thought he spoke very directly and without ambiguity," said NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume. "It was a very important moment in the mayor's political career because of the attention he gets ... not just from the Democratic Party but around the nation."

"He hit all the right notes," said Maryland convention delegate Jim Kraft, wearing an O'Malley sticker on his lapel.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a potential O'Malley rival for the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, had nice things to say as well.

"He was great," Duncan said.

Maryland's senior U.S. senator, Paul S. Sarbanes, also had praise. "It was a good, strongly opinioned speech," he said. "The issue of providing for our police and our firefighters and our first responders is a very, very important issue and he made the case quite well."

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 - and what O'Malley characterized as a "long-stalled effort" to outfit first-responders with the tools he said they need to protect Americans from terrorist attacks - underpinned the mayor's 7 1/2 -minute remarks.

"Where is the urgency, Mr. President?" O'Malley asked forcefully in remarks directed at President Bush. "Three years later, our firefighters and police officers - from New York to Los Angeles, St. Louis to Miami - still lack the funds to keep our families safe and still don't have the protective gear they need to save American lives," he said to scattered applause.

"John Kerry will eliminate the shameful backlog of communications and protective equipment for our fire and police first-responders; he will make the tough choices necessary to secure our borders and ports," O'Malley said.

The mayor's wife, Katie Curran O'Malley, expressed relief when it was over. "I thought it was dynamic," she said. "I was saying in my head, `Don't forget, don't forget.'"


Connecticut delegate Peter S. Carozza Jr., dressed in a yellow firefighter's shirt, gave O'Malley hearty applause.

"Excellent," he said. "I agreed with him 100 percent."

But back in Annapolis, Maryland Republican Party chairman John Kane said the mayor's words fell flat.

Calling O'Malley a "petulant little child," Kane said he couldn't shake the memory of the mayor telling supporters at a Kerry campaign fund-raiser in June that he was more worried about Bush's policies than about an al-Qaida attack.

"I remember after the attacks of Sept. 11, as mayor of the city, I was very, very worried about al-Qaida and still am. But I'm even more worried about the actions and inactions of the Bush administration," O'Malley said at the time.

"I think it's a terrible thing that Kerry's liberal buddies heard him say those remarks and thought he'd be a great poster child for homeland security," Kane said.

Speaking 30 minutes after O'Malley, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, delivered a well-received address that roused delegates when he told them, "This is the most important election of our lives."

Cummings' remarks touched on his South Carolina roots. His parents, sharecroppers on the same land where his grandparents and great-grandparents were enslaved, moved to Baltimore after World War II and chased down the American dream for their seven children.

"They joined a labor union to obtain fair wages, health insurance and the overtime pay that would allow them to buy their own home," Cummings said. "They made certain that their children attended school every day - and lived to see all of us succeed.

"My parents lived the American dream - the same dream that we, as Democrats, have always worked to make possible for all Americans."

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