Martin O'Malley, sworn in as the state's 61st governor yesterday as a 19-gun salute echoed in wintry air, promised "a new day in Maryland" marked by bipartisan respect and a fresh resolve to improve the lives of state residents.
"For too long in the capitals of our nation and our states, we've acted as if our people have somehow lost the capacity to sacrifice and to make tough choices, but, my friends, to govern is to choose," O'Malley said from a podium outside the historic State House.
"In our Maryland, in our one Maryland, progress is always possible. And together we can make real progress, with respect for one another, with truth about ourselves, and the problems that we face, and faith in our ideals as a people."
O'Malley's 13-minute speech was delivered from the sunny steps of the State House after he took his official oath of office in a joint session of the General Assembly - launching a return to Democratic rule in Annapolis.
O'Malley, who had been Baltimore's mayor since 1999, defeated one-term Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in November, putting to rest - at least for now - speculation that the state political climate might have been shifting to the right.
Ehrlich was the first GOP governor in three decades in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans roughly 2 to 1.
Maryland Democrats displayed their renewed power yesterday, welcoming some of the state's most influential national leaders, including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Baltimore native, and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, who represents Southern Maryland in Congress.
"I come here with a pledge to work with the new leadership in Maryland, across state lines ... across city and district lines as well, and across party lines to find common ground for the common good, to work together for all Americans," Pelosi said.
O'Malley was joined by his wife, Baltimore District Court Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley, and their four children yesterday as he strolled between a private morning meeting of dignitaries on the upper floor of the State House to the Senate chamber below to take the oath just after noon. He then moved to the outdoor podium for the nearly hourlong inaugural ceremony, where he repeated his pledge.
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, a former Prince George's County delegate, was also sworn in during the brief Senate session. Brown's wife, Patricia, and their two children, Rebecca and Jonathan, joined him. Jonathan Brown, 6, placed his right hand on the Bible next to his father's while the lieutenant governor took his oath.
Together later, the O'Malleys and Browns attended a parade on State Circle, waving from an elevated viewing station as high school bands representing the state's diverse regions marched by. They then received guests at Government House.
Though the day's temperatures lingered in the low 30s, with space heaters warming officials on the dais, the governor and lieutenant governor appeared buoyed by the General Assembly's and the city's warm embrace. They were also sober in their assessment of the challenges ahead.
O'Malley, who turns 44 today, cautioned throughout his inaugural address that Maryland is facing a time of "peril and possibility," an era, he said, that requires leadership and a "belief in the dignity of every individual."
"Budget deficits, polluted waters, drug addiction and crumbling infrastructure are of our own recent making," the governor said. "But other perils, like global warming, the global economy, global terrorism, global migration, are powered by additional forces, many of which are seemingly beyond our reach. But all of these perils demand that we take responsibility to advance our common good."
Though the speech was heavy on feel-good but nonspecific rhetoric, O'Malley provided several clues about his policy thinking as he takes office.
He promised to work with officials in Virginia and Washington to form a "powerhouse regional economy capable of competing and winning on the world stage." He said he will strive to make Maryland "a world leader in the development of clean and renewable energy, alternative fuels, green building technology and cleaner burning cars." The Chesapeake Bay - specifically its dwindling oyster population - needs attention and resources, the governor said.
Having campaigned on a theme of helping working families, O'Malley also said he is intent on working with legislators to make higher education and health care more affordable.
"Working parents shouldn't have to go begging with a tin cup if their children fall gravely ill," he said.
Scheduled to unveil his first budget today, O'Malley briefly thanked Ehrlich - who led the state during prosperous times but was defeated after a long and bitter campaign - for his service. Ehrlich attended but sat in a folding chair in the audience with his wife and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele on either side, not with officials who lined the State House steps.
He and Steele, who was Maryland's highest-ranking African-American official ever, exchanged comments during the ceremony, sometimes audibly. Their asides were particularly noticeable when former Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, a Democrat, mentioned that Brown was his party's first black lieutenant governor.
During his speech, Brown, a Harvard law graduate who served in Iraq with the Judge Advocate General Corps, also spoke of partnership and new beginnings, compromise, conviction and service. He said his love of country was fostered by his father, who hails from Jamaica, and his mother, who was raised in Switzerland.
Brown urged Marylanders of all backgrounds and experience to give back.
"Walk good, my fellow Marylanders, and let good walk with you," he said.
Earlier, Pelosi, a San Francisco congresswoman, prompted unintended laughter when she flubbed a line of congratulations. "Martin O'Malley demonstrated as a great mayor of Baltimore that he will be a great governor of California," she said, before recovering: "Ahhhhhhh! That, too. I do feel as if I am at home."
The inaugural guest list was hardly bipartisan. Democrats packed the risers, including U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, U.S. Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and John Sarbanes, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and former congressman and NAACP chief Kweisi Mfume, among many others. Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the former governor and Baltimore mayor who was voted out of office last year, did not attend; nor did former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democrat who lost her 2002 gubernatorial bid to Ehrlich, observed the day's events with "a great sense of hope and anticipation." Though she greeted Ehrlich and Steele with hugs and extensive chatting before the inaugural, she said she was thrilled for her party.
"It's just fabulous," she said. "We got our state back, and we're waiting to get our country back."
Most Republican legislators let the new Democratic leaders have their moment. House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell of Southern Maryland said he appreciated O'Malley's efforts to reach across the aisle.
"It's a new beginning and a new day, and it's a day that we should allow to occur with some fanfare in Maryland, but time will tell," he said. "I appreciate the references to cooperation and a respectful tone."
The Maryland Republican Party, however, wasted no time in criticizing the new governor - distributing a stinging statement from new party Chairman James Pelura before O'Malley had delivered his speech.
"Martin O'Malley has already broken his campaign promise on funding for education," Pelura said. "He has only filled six out of 24 department heads, as the legislative session is well under way. ... After his many expensive campaign promises, this Administration suddenly appears without any direction. These are troubling signs from O'Malley."
But others said that the new administration, coupled with energetic Democratic newcomers in the attorney general's and comptroller's offices, will aim together to change the partisan political tone that dominated Annapolis under Ehrlich. With Democrats holding veto-proof majorities in the House of Delegates and Senate, the party's dominance is indisputable.
"It's an exciting time," said Attorney Gen. Douglas F. Gansler, sipping a cup of coffee in the State House after the outdoor inaugural. "I think it was very family-friendly; there were children up there with both the governor and lieutenant governor. It was a time of optimism. You really can feel it. Especially here in Annapolis."
For his part, the sometimes brash O'Malley appeared humbled. After Robert M. Bell, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, administered the oath inside the Senate chambers, O'Malley expressed gratitude for the trust placed in him and paraphrased abolitionist and Maryland native Frederick Douglass.
"We are one, that our cause is one and we must help each other if we are to succeed," he said.
Sun reporter Laura Vozzella contributed to this article.