Dwarfed by the giant American flag at the top of Federal Hill, Martin O’Malley officially began his presidential campaign in Baltimore on Saturday. Over the sounds of protestors seeking to disrupt the speech, the former Baltimore mayor and two-term Maryland said he will focus on “rebuilding the American Dream.”
The content of the speech made it clear that the campaign will also focus on staking out positions to the left of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
“Our economic and political system is upside down and backwards and it is time to turn it around,” O’Malley said. “What happened to our economy — what happened to the American Dream — did not happen by chance, nor was it merely the result of global forces somehow beyond our control.”
O’Malley didn’t hold back in criticizing banks and big corporations, questioning why there wasn’t a “single Wall Street CEO” who went to jail for their role in the 2008 financial crisis.
“Tell me how it is, that you can get pulled over for a broken tail light in our country, but if you wreck the nation’s economy you are untouchable,” he said.
The speech also had a theme of inclusiveness. He was introduced by a local college kid with two moms, a Panamanian immigrant who worked for the DREAM Act and marriage equality and the blind, African American neighborhood activist Robert Nowlin. Behind him onstage, O’Malley had virtually every demographic group in the country represented, and began his speech by listing each one off.
“Every person is important. Each of us is needed,” he said. “In our idea of country, there is no such thing as a spare American.”
O’Malley, of course, is also hoping there is no such thing as a spare presidential candidate. Members of the national political press were at the announcement, but each scribe was destined to dutifully point out that O’Malley is a long shot who needs a miracle as they wrote their stories. O’Malley, meanwhile, addressed this reality from an economic point of view. He mentioned Clinton and Bush by way of saying that the CEO of Goldman Sachs recently indicated he would be fine with either candidate. The mention stretched the theme of inclusiveness to the presidential race itself, with O’Malley making a case for why he belonged.
“I’ve got news for the bullies of Wall Street — the presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families,” he said, referring to the Clintons and Bushes. “It is a sacred trust to be earned from the people of the United States, and exercised on behalf of the people of the United States.”
‘Baltimore is Our Country’
With the announcement in Baltimore, O’Malley didn’t shy away from addressing the unrest that put the city in the national spotlight, describing it as a “heartbreaking night for all of us.”
“For us, Baltimore is our country, and our country is Baltimore,” he said. ” And there is something to be learned from that night. There is something to be offered to our country from those flames. For what took place here was not only about race, and not only about policing in America. It’s about everything it is supposed to mean to be an American.”
O’Malley was then met with chants from a small group protestors shouting, “Black Lives Matter.”
They were a ways back from the stage and mostly blocked from O’Malley’s view by risers set up for TV cameras, but the protestors continued their disruptions throughout the speech. When O’Malley spoke about Wall Street bankers wrecked the economy, one said “It was you.” At another point, a man shouted, “What about Freddie Gray?” Toward the end, multiple protestors began to blow whistles, prompting a few members of the media to break off from the speech and check out the commotion.
It wasn’t the only distraction at the event. Before O’Malley took the stage, the sound cut out in a video interlude. The mostly friendly crowd, in turn, was happy to pick up with chants of “O-Mall-Ey” as the video played on. And at one point in the speech, a drone flew overhead. It was low enough to announce its presence, and, seeming to realize that it was noticed, promptly buzzed off.
Despite the noise and lack thereof, O’Malley kept speaking, resolute in his choice to run no matter the outside circumstances. He saved the official announcement for the end.
“To you, and to all who can hear my voice, I declare that I am a candidate for President of the United States,” he said. “And I’m running for you.”
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