“He wasn’t a cheerleader for it the way that Cuomo was” said one national gay rights leader. “But he is certainly a cheerleader for it now. One can draw the conclusion that he saw some of the excitement among progressives that Cuomo generated, and began to feel he needed some of that.”
In Annapolis, Mr. O’Malley proclaimed that he was only vaguely aware of the goings-on in New York.
“We have been doing a lot more reconstruction of it since it passed, and I would like to hope that the advocates in New York drew some lessons for what we did in our state. I think there have been people looking at it since. But how closely did I follow it?” Here Mr. O’Malley pauses for several seconds.
“It was certainly big news.”
Last month, in widely reported remarks an Empire State Pride Awards dinner, Mr. Cuomo cast himself as a national leader on gay rights, proclaiming “We need marriage equality in every state in this nation. Otherwise, no state really has marriage equality, and we will not rest until it is a reality.”
Mr. O’Malley said he was unaware of the speech.
“I would imagine what he is talking about, I think, is that the actions of New York have reverberated all around the country,” he said.
So who is this Cuomo-killer? Like the New York governor, he is handsome, tall, charismatic, young and, by reputation and fact, remarkably ambitious and calculating. But unlike Mr. Cuomo, who grew up the son of an old-school Democratic lifer, Mr. O’Malley got his first taste of politics as a youth organizer for Gary Hart. He grew up in the D.C. suburbs, attending Catholic schools and Catholic University. He married the daughter of the politically well-connected state attorney general and, at the tender age of 27, ran for the State Senate. He lost, but the next year ran for the City Council, representing a white working class area of Baltimore.
The city was at the time on a sharp, downward trajectory, with the ineffective Mayor Kurt Schmoke at the helm. Mr. O’Malley quickly developed a reputation as a young pol in a hurry, and in 1999, ran for mayor while railing against a police department and a city workforce that had grown lazy. Two black lawmakers split the vote, and Mr. O’Malley, with the backing of a powerful black powerbroker, won a surprising election in a largely black city. He promptly instituted a series of reforms based around the need to bring a data-driven system of accountability to the functions of government and began plotting his run for governor.
Sound familiar? That’s because it is also largely the trajectory of Tommy Carcetti, the mayor of Baltimore in HBO’s The Wire.
David Simon, the show’s creator, has always insisted that the character is a composite, and Mr. O’Malley quickly cut off a question about it, pointing a finger and saying, “I’m not that guy.”
What he is however, is a courtly Southern gentleman, far more soft-spoken and the polar opposite of Mr. Cuomo, but with a reputation as someone who is able to fire up the faithful on the stump. Mr. Cuomo has his muscle-cars obsession, and Mr. O’Malley has O’Malley’s March, a Celtic rock band fronted by the governor in which he often appears on stage in a too-tight black T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. “They have a national tourinig schedule, which gets him in front of a lot of women, who love him,” said Barry Raskovar, a local consultant.
Advisers to Mr. O’Malley think that he will play better on the national stage than his New York counterpart, who will come across as too New York for the heartland. If Mr. O’Malley’s ambition is shrouded behind that good-old boy charm and his muscle shirts, Mr. Cuomo, they think, won’t be able to hide it quite as well, his New York-style sharp elbows pushing aside even those inclined to like him.
And, they think that Mr. Cuomo isn’t helping with his apparent refusal to ever leave his home state (since being sworn in in January, Mr. Cuomo has left the confines of the state only a handful of times, and then mostly to just pass through New Jersey en route to a New York destination) and to eschew any kind of national attention.