BALTIMORE, MD – Martin O’Malley lives with his wife in the quaint North Baltimore neighborhood of Homeland. Far from the rough-and-tumble street world of “The Wire,” this is a sleepy cul-de-sac, a place where soccer practice takes precedence over gangbanging, and neighbors are more likely to get angry about late snow plows than drug deals.
As I enter O’Malley’s two-story, four-bedroom home, I really don’t know what to expect. Yes, he’s the presumptive Democratic nominee to some, but the man himself is a cipher. As I gingerly step through his foyer, I mentally refresh myself on the O’Malley essentials. He headed the counterterrorism team for the Annapolis Museum of Sheet Metal. He was made Honorary General-Secretary of the Eastern Seaboard Model Train Convention. He singlehandedly ended a labor dispute in Baltimore’s biggest taffy factory. I feel the weight of these accomplishments with every step I take. It’s as if the closer I get to him, the more impressive he is.
“Carl, it’s so great to finally meet you,” his lovely wife Catherine beams. Catherine is white, in her early 50s. She carries herself with the energy of a young woman and the grace of an old woman. She keeps a lovely house, with parquet on the floors, marble on the fireplace, and flowers on every table.
“Hi, Catherine! Is Martin here?” I ask.
“Martin is–Martin doesn’t tell me where he is,” she replies, her smile fading.
“Will he be back soon?”
“I–Would you care for a drink, Carl?”
“Sure! I’ll take a double-shot of Sanka on the rocks.”
Catherine hurries into the kitchen, from which I hear the whirr of the percolator. As I’m dreaming of that Sanka I hear the smashing of glass and a yelp. I rush in and see Catherine over the sink, her hands bloody.
“Are you alright?” I ask concernedly.
“I’m fine, Carl. Not that anyone cares around here. Don’t worry about it.” She picks up the shards of glass and begins throwing them away.
Just then Jack O’Malley comes running in. At 13, Jack is the youngest of the four O’Malley children. He reminds me of a thinner version of my round son Colby.
“Howdy Jack! How’s the Minecrafts coming?” I say, speaking the lingo of Millennials.
Jack ignores me and grabs a soda from the fridge. He glares at his mother, who is putting glass shards into a plastic bag.
“Jack,” she commands. “Jack, help your mother and take this to the garage.”
Jack looks down at the floor. “Father says I’m not to address you. Father says you are working against him.”
“I am your mother, and you will listen to me!”
Jack shuffles off. I plop myself on a stool and wait for that delicious Sanka.
It’s Sunday evening, and I’m here for a sit-down with the candidate’s wife and kids. Fortunately for me, an historic blizzard has stranded the energetic O’Malley in his home state, and he’s been hanging around town until he can catch the next flight to Iowa, whose first-in-the-nation caucuses are in just one week.
As Catherine and I sip our Sankas in silence, Governor O’Malley enters from the backyard.
“Martin, where were you?” Catherine asks.
“I–I had a lunch that went long.”
“Seven hours is a long time for lunch.”
“I was with donors, Catherine. Do you understand? I need to have long lunches with the donors, since I am going to be President,” Governor O’Malley retorts in the authoritative tone that won the hearts of voters in Maryland so handily. “And you know you are not to ask of my affairs in front of company.”
Catherine stands in silence.
“Show me your hand, Catherine. What happened to your hand, Catherine?”
“You don’t care.”
Martin laughs. “I hope my wife hasn’t been too clumsy, Carl.”
“Not at all, sir!” I sense my chance to get some hard-hitting questions in. “So, Governor O’Malley, with Iowa right around the corner and the FBI closing in on Hillary Clinton’s email server, do you think you have the viral mojo to go toe-to-toe with Bernie on Snapchat?”
“Well, Carl, I’m glad you asked that. It seems like a lot of people think they can get rid of me, that they can just ignore me or what I want. They’re mistaken. They don’t realize that they’re dealing with a man who brought the National Helicopter Convention to Silver Springs, the man who headed the Security Committee for the Junior Paralympics that were right here in Baltimore. They’re dealing with someone who has reach. And if you’re planning to do anything, I’m going to see it before you do. Trust me. Trust me on that if you trust me on anything.”
O’Malley says this without breaking eye contact with his wife. I think it’s odd he doesn’t address the veteran reporter right in front of him, but for a man like O’Malley whose family is a cornerstone of his campaign (as opposed to Bernie Sanders and his equally terrible dashiki-clad spouse whom the he keeps hidden presumably because she is a woman), he wants her to be there every step of the way with him.
“No one’s out to get you, Martin. They’re just sick of it. They’re sick of all of it.” Catherine says, her voice rising. On one hand, she’s right about most Americans being sick of partisan politics. But I can also tell she’s as nervous about her husband going up to a national stage as he is. Yet the Governor’s steely glare reassures her back into silence.
“Great stuff, sir. So how do you plan on getting millennials on board with Martmentum?” I ask.
“The children will always like me better. That’s a promise.” O’Malley replies.
O’Malley is clearly a candidate who in his heart knows the polls are going to catch up to him. If he seems terse or unpolished at times, like when he frequently interrupted Sanders and Clinton at the most recent Democratic debate to talk about his record revitalizing Baltimore’s waterfront, it’s because he’s playing a game. In fact, he’s playing the most frustrating game in politics, and it’s called Hurry Up And Wait. Wait for the Gun Moms and Mud Dads to realize that you’re the only rational candidate not heading to prison. Wait for Bernie Sanders to have a stroke. Wait for that perfect invitation to Good Morning America to show your fun side. But when that waiting is over, it seems like O’Malley has everything else all planned out.
We’re sitting around the fireplace in O’Malley’s spacious living room, me, Martin, Catherine, and their four children. The flames crackle with a soothing energy. It’s a vision of domestic bliss straight out of a made-for-TV movie.
Grace and Tara, the O’Malley daughters, are both out of college. I observe that they hardly resemble their mom.
“My genetics are potent, Carl,” says the Governor, as he puts on a CD of ominous string music.
Meanwhile Jack is playing on his Nintendo and getting agitated when Mario doesn’t save the Princess.
“I said no video games after 8 PM, Jack,” says Catherine, staring at her feet.
Martin clenches the armrests of his chair. “My son will play as many video games as he pleases. I provided him with these video games, from the money I earned as Governor of Maryland and, before that, Mayor of Baltimore. They are gifts from me, bought by my awesome power.”
I ask the kids what they think of their old man’s campaign.
“We just love his campaign strategist, Susan,” says Tara.
“Susan is so pretty. Dad, I wish I could I see Susan all the time,” says Grace.
In all my years of following politics I’ve never seen candidates’ children so enthusiastic about their parent’s campaign team.
Martin chuckles. “Susan is endowed with certain… talents, which a potent man such as I find appealing. Yes, I… I enjoy the time we spend together, Susan and I, on the campaign trail.”
Catherine seems to be the minority report on the Susan issue. “I’m not sure…”
“What was that?” says Martin.
“I’m not sure Susan is giving you good advice, Martin. I mean, aren’t you at, just, 2% in the polls? Perhaps you should stop…”
Martin gets up and marches across the room. He turns off the lights. His face is licked by the orange glow of the roaring fire.
Before he can finish, she storms out, probably to re-review some of the campaign’s internal polling numbers. In my 30+ years of following Presidential politics, I’ve never seen an entire family take on the fight like the O’Malleys have.
Martin invites me to watch as he tucks his wife tightly into bed, secures the windows, and locks the bedroom door. It’s an intimate moment. If every voter could see what a loving marriage the O’Malleys have, he’d be leading every poll.
With the wife and kids off to bed, Martin invites me to sit around the fireplace for brandy and cigars. With the candidate’s guard down, I sense my big chance to ask some tough questions.
“Governor O’Malley, how do you respond to critics who say you weren’t firm enough with the Maryland Junior Rotary Club when they wanted to hold their Spring Fling at the Baltimore Radisson?”
Ah, the cat-and-mouse game of veteran journalist and respected politician. I take a sip of my brandy when Martin, steel-faced, walks over to me. He does something with his hand. And then I… I drop my brandy. By accident.
“It seems you’re very clumsy, Carl.”
“But, you… I…”
Martin leans down to meet me eye-to-eye. “You are clumsy, Carl. You are a clumsy, foolish oaf. If you weren’t so clumsy, you would have won that Polk Award.”
“I, well, I was nominated, and that’s an honor in–”
“You lost because you miss things. You defied me. You didn’t listen to me. This is what happens when you don’t listen to me, Carl. Look at me, Carl.”
I glance from the brandy stain on the carpet to the Governor, and I know he’s right.
Martin takes a handkerchief from his pocket and throws it at my face.
“Clean it up, Carl. Clean up your mess, Carl. That’s right. Go on. Get on all fours and clean up the mess that you made.”
Martin O’Malley stands over me as I clean up his carpet. It sure seems strange, but these are the lengths we journalists go to just to get the full story. Also, it was my fault, because I’m clumsy.
“I remember you disrespected me, Carl. In your March 17, 2009 column entitled ‘Martin O’Malley’s Viral Goof At The Ocean City Clam Festival.’ I remember that column, Carl. That’s why you lost the Polk Award. Because you disrespected me. You will never disrespect me again, Carl. Do you understand me? Look at me, Carl.”
“I, uh, sir…”
“What is your interest in my wife, Carl? I know you do not have a wife, because you are too inept to have a wife. Does that make you think you can have my wife, Carl?”
I cough confidently. “Sir, I’m what you’d call a confirmed bachelor–”
“I know what you’re thinking, Carl. You are scared. You want to run away from me, from my home. You want to call the police. By all means, do so. You can use my phone. Say hello to them for me. I’m the one who negotiated a 0.5% reduction in the Village Of Homeland Police Union’s mandatory pension fund contributions.”
“I’m not scared, sir,” I declare with a brave whimper.
“Don’t you get it, Carl? The Baltimore Jaycees, the Maryland Amateur Troutfishing Society, the Rosebank Neighborhood Watch Association. I control them all. And there’s nothing you can do about it. This is my world, Carl. I am the former Governor of Maryland, two-time mayor of Baltimore, and city councilmember from the 3rd district. I hold all the cards.”
Governor O’Malley puts on a flight jacket emblazoned with the logo of the Maryland Amateur Skydiving Club.
“Martin, where are you going?”
“You are not to ask that question, Carl. Why are you so stupid, Carl?”
I look at the wet spot on the carpet I caused. “I’m sorry, Governor.”
“If you must know, I’m going to see Ron Fournier at O’Hallahan’s Pub. I need to speak with him, since I will be President and therefore must speak to the press.”
“But, Ron is–”
“What about Ron, Carl? What is your obsession with Ron? Why do you keep bringing Ron up? Don’t you have to clean the mess you made on my carpet? The steamvac is in the basement.”
“Yeah. I have to clean the mess I made. I’m sorry, Governor. I’ll clean it up.”
Martin O’Malley picks up his car keys. “Don’t wait up for me, Carl. Meeting with journalists takes a long time. A long time, Carl.”
“I, uh, I had a few more questions–”
“You are not to be here when I return, Carl. You are not to embarrass me in front of my family ever again, or in your column ever again. And if you can manage that, you will win a Polk Award. Is that understood, Carl?”
“Yes. Yes sir, Governor. Have a good night. Congratulations on your campaign. I’ll get this stain right out for you!”
Folks, after my evening with the O’Malleys, I’m more confident than ever that Martin O’Mentum is for real. Martin O’Malley is the only candidate with the thick resume, trustworthy face, and commanding demeanor to go all the way in this year’s Democratic primary. Yet time will tell if voters are too clumsy or just trying to sabotage this frankly innocent man who truly cares about them, he really does.
Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at email@example.com or Tweet to @carl_diggler.