Baltimore Riots: Martin O’Malley’s Huge Test

Ex-governor and Hillary Clinton rival could be seen as the man who didn’t do enough, or who came home and restored calm. Either way, he’ll finally be known.

Recent chaos in Baltimore brings O’Malley a chance.
Recent chaos in Baltimore brings O’Malley a chance. –AP

The riots in Baltimore could be a make-or-break moment in former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s dark-horse presidential bid.

Before the riots, pundits said O’Malley had a long-shot chance at best of stealing the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton.

In his two terms as governor, he helped legalize gay marriage, enact gun control legislation, prohibit the death penalty in the state, and secure in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants.

But hardly anyone knows who he is. President Obama even joked at this past weekend’s White House Correspondent’s dinner: “Martin O’Malley kicked things off by going completely unrecognized at a Martin O’Malley campaign event.’’

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But O’Malley is suddenly very, very visible. When the riots in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray broke out, he cancelled a trip to Ireland where he would have met with a law firm and a renewable energy company, as well as PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM executives. He told reporters that police departments need to be more “open and transparent’’ if there is any hope of preventing deaths like Gray’s.

The Baltimore violence could be a huge liability for O’Malley—who was the city’s mayor before he was governor—if voters hold him responsible for the violence and underlying problems there. They may wonder why he didn’t do more to reform relations between the police and citizens while he was in office.

But he also has a huge opportunity. He could emerge as the former leader who was able to come home and bring calm to a city reeling from violence and suspision between citizens and police.

It’s a giant leadership test for O’Malley, and if he botches it, Clinton will have an even easier time steamrolling him on her way to D.C. On the other hand, if he can help ease the suffering and promote order in his home state, he’ll have added to his track record and earned political goodwill that he can use as a building block of his campaign.

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But for better or for worse, he will be known.

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