One is Gov. Martin O'Malley's closest high school buddy. Another was his bartender. A third was a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. And one of the most senior of the crew worked in state government for 14 years for O'Malley's father-in-law.
When it comes to O'Malley's inner circle, the governor keeps close those advisers who made his seven-year run as Baltimore mayor a success. The group is tight, loyal and disciplined, and has one obvious goal - to create a winning administration in Annapolis.
But many observers believe the unspoken agenda is to craft a public persona for O'Malley that could launch him onto the national scene. With moves to champion a bill to move up Maryland's presidential primary and a visible lobbying effort to repeal the state's death penalty law, O'Malley and his advisers have pushed an aggressive agenda just 2 1/2 months into his first term.
"I think that Martin is a person who can be decisive once he gets all of the facts and the information, but I believe he surrounds himself with people who tell him straight up what the facts are," said former Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., the governor's father-in-law.
O'Malley said he values the give-and-take of the group's weekly private sessions.
"It's really in the collective interaction and the dialogue that I think we excel as an administration," O'Malley said. "It's not because any one person has the right answer all the time."
O'Malley's advisers helped devise a city agenda that propelled him into higher office. They shaped the public image of a young, crime-fighting mayor working to spark the resurgence of a dying city. Now, at the state level, they are mirroring that work with a focus on public safety, health care and the environment.
The "One Maryland" mantra that echoed throughout the governor's January inaugural address is the updated version of his Baltimore "Believe" campaign, and, some say, a not-so-subtle play at the kind of message that could one day carry O'Malley to an even more visible platform: the U.S. Senate or the presidency.
"It's clear that he acted as mayor with an eye to larger fields of endeavor, and his behavior as governor so far, as carefully measured as it is, is calculated to win him further prominence as a serious candidate for higher office," said Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor.
O'Malley's kitchen Cabinet convenes weekly - twice as often as his actual Cabinet. Their morning "legislative meetings" are held at the State House, though several in the group are known to gather some evenings informally at several Annapolis watering holes.
The governor's collection of closest advisers could be loosely divided into two camps - his white, Irish posse of mostly 30- and 40-year-olds, and three senior African-American women who helped guide his fiscal policies and legislative operation in Baltimore.
The former group includes: chief of staff Michael R. Enright, who attended Gonzaga College High School in Washington with O'Malley; deputy chief of staff Matthew D. Gallagher, a City Hall veteran who ran the CitiStat program; Stephen J. Kearney, the one-time archdiocese spokesman who serves as the governor's communications director; and Sean R. Malone, a deputy legislative officer whom O'Malley met when Malone was bartending at Baltimore's McGinn's, a frequent stop for O'Malley's March, the governor's band.
The latter set is headlined by deputy chief of staff Peggy J. Watson, a 30-year Baltimore City Hall veteran; appointments secretary Jeanne D. Hitchcock, a former deputy mayor for intergovernmental affairs; and budget secretary T. Eloise Foster, who served former Gov. Parris N. Glendening in the same role.
"I was like an old chick compared to them," said Watson, who was recruited out of retirement twice by O'Malley, first in 1999 and then again after the 2006 gubernatorial contest.
O'Malley said that Enright might be his top aide, but he implicitly trusts Watson's advice - even with the thorniest matters.
"I always would ask first, 'What does Peggy think?'" he said of Watson, who helped O'Malley build the city's rainy day fund and ensured the city schools bailout was tenable.
It is not out of the ordinary for a new governor to bring in confidants with him. Gov. William Donald Schaefer took many members of his mayoral staff from Baltimore with him, and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who served in Congress for eight years, brought several top advisers with him from Capitol Hill.
O'Malley, however, has long had a reputation for keeping an exclusive inner circle.
"It's hard to break through," said Baltimore Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a candidate for mayor. "And for someone like the governor, who is like this rising star in the Democratic Party, that's exactly what I think he needs as he moves forward. As you move further up, you have a lot of people with ideas and other agendas that aren't in the best interest of government, that aren't in the best interest of the overall plan."
Mitchell said he created nicknames for several O'Malley staffers, ubiquitous as they were when they ran City Hall.
O'Malley was "the king." Mitchell called Enright - who played football with O'Malley in high school, acted with him in Guys and Dolls, and knows the governor best - "the executioner," for his ability to effectively carry out his boss' policies and wishes. Kearney, who deals primarily with the news media, was "the shooter," and Gallagher, who ran O'Malley's CitiStat program from the sixth floor of City Hall, was coined "Mr. Mayor."
One newbie in O'Malley's Annapolis bunch is a self-described ethnic "mutt" named Joseph C. Bryce, who worked for Glendening and serves as the governor's chief legislative officer. A pro at working the General Assembly on various policy issues, Bryce said he's part-Irish but also of French, Scottish, Polish and Czech heritage. Regardless, he said jokingly, he has felt welcomed by O'Malley's longtime professional brood and disputes any notion that they're insular.
"Before I went to work with them, I had seen and read about that perception and have found that, at least in my experience and my interaction, it couldn't be further from the truth," Bryce said.
Other featured players in the weekly "LegiStat" meetings, as Enright calls the sessions, include: Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, an eight-year veteran of the House of Delegates; and Ralph S. Tyler, chief legal counsel and a former Curran staffer and city solicitor. The group, in hourlong meetings, works from a detailed agenda that highlights the legislative week ahead and reviews the previous week's action as well.
Enright, the governor said, is his closest aide. He often stands on the sidelines during the governor's public events, and O'Malley has been known to razz his old friend from the podium. Enright rarely meets with reporters, preferring to remain behind the scenes. With his neatly combed- back dirty-blond hair and All-American looks, he is known for quietly keeping items out of the governor's orbit if they don't require his attention.
O'Malley said anyone working with him has learned that there are "no end runs around Enright."
"Michael and I have known each other since high school, and he knows me like a book, which can be helpful especially to kind of translate to the rest of the group," O'Malley said. "If I'm having a bad day, he can tell them, 'Go back and ask him in an hour.'"
During a recent meeting of StateStat, the governor's system to assess government performance, Enright sat to O'Malley's right, Gallagher to his left. Tyler and Foster rounded out the governor's crew in a mostly bare room in an Annapolis office building. The team posed questions to Secretary Gary D. Maynard of the Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services about the just-completed closure of the House of Correction in Jessup.
Gallagher asked if any inmates had acted out because of the move to other facilities and if contraband had been found once the building was vacated. Enright inquired about why the building's power couldn't be shut off completely. Maynard described the process of closing the prison. "It was very quick," he said. "A lot of people didn't know where they were going."
Meanwhile, progress charts - addressing the closing of the House of Correction and other department-wide issues - were projected on two screens at the front of the room.
A chart outlined uses for the 128-year-old Victorian structure. One option: "Hello Hollywood!"
"The movie industry's interested," Maynard said.
"Have you really gotten any calls?" the governor replied, the shirtsleeves of his blue oxford rolled up, his jacket draped over the back of his chair.
"I think there will be a market," Maynard replied.
There was no formality or hierarchy to the meeting. O'Malley's crew asked questions as they pleased. The atmosphere was casual, but the players were direct. O'Malley appeared totally at ease with their full participation.
There are others in O'Malley's universe who are not with the governor in Annapolis but influence his thinking.
O'Malley's brother and longtime city aide, Peter O'Malley, is chief of staff to Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. And then there is first lady Katie Curran O'Malley, a Baltimore District Court judge who has kept a low public profile to avoid any potential professional conflict. Her job prohibits her from participating in any "partisan political activity."
But Enright said the first lady is helpful to him. "She's influential for me if I'm thinking over big things," Enright said of the judge. "I never hesitate to pick up the phone and call Katie. She's got great instincts."
The supporting cast of characters who are making O'Malley's world run have shown their signature flair for pushing themes. As he did in the city, O'Malley is shaping an image that paints him as tough on crime (the closing of a violent prison) but also thoughtful in his approach (his opposition to the death penalty). CitiStat has graduated to StateStat, re-emphasizing O'Malley's attention to detail and interest in government efficiency and the bottom line. And O'Malley, with the help of his senior staff, is reaching out to the General Assembly, inviting members to the mansion and his office.
"If anything, you would describe his first two months' tenure in Annapolis as cautious and low-key," Crenson said. "I suspect that what's coming out now is really not just him but a collective product that's been thought through."
Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley lauded the O'Malley staff for reaching out to Republicans. He has been invited for breakfast with the governor at Government House, among other meetings, and feels O'Malley's staff is accessible. But as visible as they are, they keep a shell around O'Malley at all times at public functions, Brinkley said.
Aides to the governor say he is the final arbiter of all-important decisions. But in making the transition to statewide government, O'Malley said he leans on his crew. They are, he said, "the people I listen to."
O' MALLEY'S INNER CIRCLE
Gov. Martin O'Malley relies on a close-knit group of advisers, ranging from those with longstanding ties to more recent additions. They include:
ANTHONY G. BROWN
Background: Member of House of Delegates, elected 1998; House majority whip, 2004 to 2007; served in U.S. Army and later in reserves, including as a lieutenant colonel in Judge Advocate General's Corps; served in Iraq with 353rd Civil Affairs Command as senior consultant to the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration
Education: Harvard University, A.B., government, 1984; Harvard Law School, J.D., 1992
MICHAEL R. ENRIGHT
Chief of staff
Background:First deputy mayor of Baltimore; executive assistant for former Attorney Gen. J. Joseph Curran Jr.; and policy aide to then-U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin
Education:Tulane University, 1985; John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, M.P.A., 1997
MATTHEW D. GALLAGHER
Deputy chief of staff; responsible for several departments, including Public Safety and Correctional Services, Business and Economic Development, Environment, Juvenile Services, Labor and Transportation
Background:Former Cabinet member, Baltimore City; director, CitiStat Program, Baltimore; former assistant deputy mayor, Philadelphia
Education: LaSalle University, B.A., economics, 1994; University of Pennsylvania, M.G.A., 1997
PEGGY J. WATSON
Deputy chief of staff; responsible for several departments, including Human Resources, and Health and Mental Hygiene
Background: Cabinet member, Baltimore; director of finance for Baltimore City; associate city treasurer
Education: Western High School
RALPH S. TYLER
Chief legal counsel
Background: Baltimore City solicitor; deputy attorney general under Curran Education: University of Illinois, 1969; Case Western Reserve University, J.D., 1972
JOSEPH C. BRYCE
Senior policy and legislative adviser
Background: Former associate vice chancellor for governmental relations, University System of Maryland; Chief legislative officer to former Gov. Parris N. Glendening
Education: University of Maryland, College Park, B.A., 1989; Georgetown University Law Center, J.D., 1993
JEANNE D. HITCHCOCK
Secretary of Appointments
Background: Former deputy mayor for intergovernmental relations, Baltimore Education: Morgan State University, 1968; University of Maryland School of Law, J.D., 1977
T. ELOISE FOSTER
Secretary of Budget and Management
Background: Former secretary and deputy secretary of Budget and Management under Glendening
Education: Howard University, business administration, 1968; American University, M.B.A., 1975
STEPHEN J. KEARNEY
Background: Director of policy and communications for mayor of Baltimore; director of communications for the Archdiocese of Baltimore
Education: Franklin & Marshall College, B.A., 1987
SEAN R. MALONE
Deputy legislative officer
Background: chief legal counsel for the Baltimore Police Department; Baltimore labor commissioner
Education: St. Mary's College, B.A., 1988; Lehigh University, M.P.A., 1990; University of Baltimore, J.D., 1997 LEAD