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Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley is speaking at the convention tonight. Is he a rising star in Democratic politics?

3:15 PM, Jul 28, 2004 • By RACHEL DICARLO
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Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley endorsed Howard Dean for president shortly before Christmas 2003, but tonight he will deliver a 1,000 word pre-primetime speech at the Democratic convention on the financial burden of homeland security in big cities. Since September 11, 2001, O'Malley has made this his hot button issue, campaigning for matching funds from the federal government to help cities recoup the costs of higher security.

Five years ago, O'Malley was an undistinguished Baltimore city councilman. When he ran for mayor in 1999 his appeal was obvious. His charm was likened to that of a Kennedy. He's young and attractive with strong features and thick brown hair, an Irish-Catholic with a pretty wife and a gaggle of cute kids. He's even the frontman for a Celtic rock band called O'Malley's March.

During his campaign he talked heatedly about a zero tolerance crime policy, cleaning up Baltimore's rotten public schools, changing its infamous status as the most drug-addicted city in America, and dropping one of the highest national murder rates from above 300 a year to 175. He was elected with 91 percent of the vote.

Since then change has been slow. Baltimore continues to have one of the highest murder rates in the nation. The police commissioner who was brought down from New York to solve it all started a six month prison sentence a few weeks ago for misusing police funds. O'Malley has increased
funding for drug treatment, but today one in eight people in Baltimore is a drug addict. The heroin problem is still one of the worst in the country.

Schools are in about the same shape, except that it was announced two weeks ago that $58 million has gone missing from the education system and no one knows what happened to it.

And that's only the beginning of the budget woes. O'Malley recently proposed $45 million in new taxes, including a cell phone tax, to help fill the city's coffers.

O'Malley can't be faulted for all of Baltimore's problems, but in an election they would be fair game, pollster Keith Haller of Potomac Inc. says. But it hasn't all
been bad. Most notably, O'Malley cleaned up the city's bureacracy by pushing through privatization and a computerized accountability program called CitiStat.

One change since O'Malley came to office is that he has
alienated two of his natural allies, both major political players in Maryland. Trial lawyer Peter Angelos, arguably one of the most powerful private citizens in Maryland because of the number and size of checks he writes for
Democratic causes, dismissed O'Malley earlier this month as "nothing more than a small-time politician aspiring to high political offices."

Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, was set off by O'Malley's admission that he wouldn't oppose the relocation of the Montreal Expos to nearby Washington, D.C.

O'Malley also ticked off Maryland comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a colorful curmudgeon in Maryland politics and a popular former Baltimore mayor and governor of Maryland, when O'Malley said at a Kerry fundraiser earlier this month that he was more worried about the Bush administration staying in power than he is about al Qaeda. "I remember after the attacks of September 11, as mayor of [Baltimore] I was very, very worried about al Qaeda and still am. But I am even more worried about the actions and inactions of
the Bush administration."

The comments made national news and prompted Schaefer to accuse O'Malley of treason. Schaefer, 82, may be getting outlandish as he ages, but his influence in elections shouldn't be underestimated. Just ask Maryland governor Bob
Ehrlich, a Schaefer ally, and the state's first Republican governor in almost four decades.

O'Malley has neither fed nor squashed the speculation, but he's the obvious choice to run against Ehrlich in 2006. He took one for the Democratic team last time around when he "made one of the hardest political decisions of my life" and stepped aside for former lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to run in 2002.

The buzz about his prospects as a national figure isn't limited to Maryland.The national media love him. Esquire magazine called him the "best young mayor in America." Senate minority leader Tom Daschle says O'Malley is a rising star in the Democratic party. And he's still often compared to a young Kennedy. "O'Malley is a lightning rod. But he's magnetic and articulate," Haller says. "It all comes down to who has maintained the most popularity with the Maryland Democrats."

Rachel DiCarlo is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.