BALTIMORE — Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley became the latest candidate to enter the 2016 presidential field on Saturday, announcing he will challenge front-runner Hiillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
Standing before supporters in Federal Hill Park on a sweltering May morning, O’Malley declared he was running for president in the city where he served as mayor from 1999 to 2007 and the state where he served as governor from 2007 until this year.
“The story of our country’s best days is not found in a history book, because this generation of Americans is about to write it,” O’Malley said. “And that is why today, to you, and to all who can hear my voice, I declare that I am a candidate for president of the United States, and I’m running for you.”
At the side of the stage where he spoke were signs bearing the campaign logo and its slogan: “New Leadership.”
Throughout his speech, the 52-year-old O’Malley emphasized the upcoming American generation — a possible reference to the 17-year age difference between him and former Secretary of State Clinton. He also carried a message of economic populism and pledged to rein in Wall Street.
“We are allowing our land of opportunity to be turned into a land of inequality,” O’Malley said. “Main Street struggles, while Wall Street soars. Tell me how it is, that not a single Wall Street CEO was convicted of a crime related to the 2008 economic meltdown — not a single one.”
Declaring his candidacy in the aftermath of the Baltimore riots that gained nationwide attention, O’Malley said the “scourge of hopelessness that happened to ignite” those acts was a symptom of the problems facing the entire country.
“The hard truth of our shared reality is that unemployment in many American cities and in many small towns across the United States is higher now than it was eight years ago,” O’Malley said. “Conditions of extreme and growing poverty, create conditions for extreme violence. We have work to do.”
Federal policy initiatives that O’Malley said he would seek to achieve as president include climate legislation, comprehensive immigration reform, reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act and breaking up banks deemed too big to fail.
O’Malley is credited with being a voice for the LGBT community during his tenure as Maryland governor. In addition to signing into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in 2012, he took part in campaign efforts to protect the measure when it came before voters in a referendum. Additionally, O’Malley signed into law last year a bill adding protections for transgender people to the state’s civil rights law.
Critics of O’Malley on LGBT issues say he wasn’t on board with marriage equality until later during his tenure as governor and initially favored civil unions at a time when LGBT advocates were pushing for full marriage rights.
At several points during his speech, O’Malley referenced his support for the LGBT community and LGBT rights. Upon mentioning the DREAM Act and marriage equality as among the policy initiatives he accomplished as governor, the audience erupted in applause.
Listing numerous groups within the country, O’Malley identified “gay, lesbian, transgender and straight Americans” and said “every person is important, each of us is needed.”
Introducing O’Malley before his remarks were four Maryland residents who said they benefited from his policies as governor. Two of the speakers identified advancements in LGBT rights under O’Malley as having a positive impact on their lives.
Jonathan Jayes-Green, who identified as LGBT and a Panama native who came to the United States at age 13, said his family lost legal immigration status after their visas expired. As such, Jayes-Green said he was aided both by the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland and the DREAM Act, which made certain undocumented immigrants in Maryland eligible for in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges.
“Nov. 6, 2012 was one of the most emotional days of my life because I felt the entire state validated my identity when it overwhelmingly approved of both marriage equality and the DREAM Act,” Jayes-Green said. “Because of that, I want to say, ‘Thank you, Gov. O’Malley. Thank you for fighting for the dignity and the respect of families like mine.'”
Joseph Weinstein-Avery, a rising senior at Johns Hopkins University who’s studying political science, said O’Malley’s support for marriage equality allowed his lesbian parents to marry in the state.
“I’m here today because Martin O’Malley led the fight for marriage equality in Maryland, and he will do the same for every state and every couple in this great nation,” Weinstein-Avery said.
Before O’Malley spoke, a video featuring him played on a screen adjacent to the stage, but the audio awkwardly cut out a few moments after it began. Supporters of O’Malley at the rally resorted to chanting, “O’Malley! O’Malley!” to break the silence.
The announcement from O’Malley that he would seek the White House was expected because he publicly said he was considering a run. In January, he said in his last days as governor of Maryland during an interview with the Washington Blade he was “very seriously considering” a presidential bid.
But O’Malley faces a significant challenge in winning the Democratic nomination, let alone the White House in 2016. In some polls, Clinton is 50 points ahead of the former Maryland governor. Also in the race for the Democratic nomination is U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-avowed democratic socialist.
At one point during his remarks, O’Malley reiterated a previously stated jab at both Clinton and likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush for their familial ties to previous U.S. presidents.
“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,” O’Malley said. “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.”
Concluding his remarks, O’Malley invoked the lyrics of singer Bruce Springsteen in a call for support to help him change the future of America.
“My decision is made,” O’Malley said. “Now you will all have a vital choice to make next year, for the good of your families, and for the good of the country you love and carry in your hearts. It is a choice that people will ask you about for years to come. And so, when a child with a world of learning ahead asks who you voted for, I want you to be able to tell that child, ‘I voted for you.'”