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Politics & Government

Martin O'Malley Joins 2016 Race For President

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Martin O'Malley is officially a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. He declared his candidacy at Federal Hill Park in Baltimore. Mr. O'Malley was once mayor of that city and a two-time governor of Maryland. He told the crowd about a Wall Street executive who said he'd be happy with either President Bush or Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

O'MALLEY: The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families.

SIMON: NPR's Juana Summers joins us now from Federal Hill Park in Baltimore. Juana, thanks for being with us.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Pretty vivid phrase, wasn't it - to wrap up Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and Wall Street executives in one phrase?

SUMMERS: It really was. Martin O'Malley made it clear today in his speech that he wants to chart a third course away from these so-called political dynasties and that he represents a new brand of leadership for America. His speech today focused heavily on that theme that he's a new generation of leader for his party and the nation as well as the fact that he is an experienced executive with a record of getting things done, not just for Baltimore, but for the state of Maryland.

SIMON: Well, let me ask about the Baltimore part. Obviously, that's been the cornerstone of his career. The announcement was in Baltimore today. A few weeks ago, he might have said I was mayor of one of the toughest cities in America, and we brought down the crime rate to a historically-low level. Now, a lot of the techniques used to do that have been questioned in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray.

SUMMERS: You're absolutely right, and that has some - his record on this issue is something that Martin O'Malley embraced today. He did not shy away from his record on policing. He touched directly on the unrest that we've seen here in Baltimore over the last weeks and saying that it was a heart-breaking night for people like him, who have devoted their lives to this city. But he also made a point to make it a broader appeal to say that what happened in Baltimore wasn't just about race, and it wasn't just about policing; it's about creating a Baltimore and an America where everyone can prosper and feel represented and have the tools they need to be successful. Of course, Governor O'Malley - the things that he did when he was in office here in Baltimore have been the subject of much scrutiny. And that was not absent here today at Federal Hill Park either.

SIMON: He made a lot of economic arguments that I found interesting given the fact that there's a Democrat already in the White House. Did he criticize some current economic policy that you noticed?

SUMMERS: He did make a definite economic appeal here, and that's something really important when you look at the economy here in Baltimore. He touched on the fact that he was chart a different economic course. The theme really here today was about charting a different path. He talked about the hard reality that unemployment in American cities and towns is higher than it was eight years ago. Poverty is growing, and he wants to tell the country that he's the person who can turn all that around.

SIMON: Of course, we note that so far, Mr. O'Malley still registers in the single digits when it comes to public opinion polls, name recognition. What kind of road does he have ahead?

SUMMERS: That's a fact that his campaign has acknowledged to us reporters, and, you know, they say that they're ready to take that challenge and to boost his name recognition. They think they have a clean slate with many Americans. From this rally here in Baltimore, O'Malley head to the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire already with a full roster of events this weekend. They're hoping to take advantage of the fact that he's an unknown commodity and introduce them - introduce voters across the country to somebody that they believe has executive experience, has leadership and can perhaps tap into a pool of voters who are dissatisfied with their only options being a Clinton or a Bush.

SIMON: NPR's Juana Summers speaking with us from the site of Martin O'Malley's campaign rally in Baltimore. Mr. O'Malley declared his candidacy today for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. Juana, thanks very much for being with us.

SUMMERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.