Watching Martin O’Malley stand behind a podium in a suit and tie, giving a lecture on “Restoring Integrity to Our Democracy,” you might not realize that this is the same man who leads an Irish folk rock band.
“That right point in the supply and demand curves was an overabundance of Irish bars and an undersupply of Irish bands,” he said. “And so we weren’t very good. We only had about 20 songs, but the three of us kept at it, and they kept paying us to play, so we got better.”
Formed in 1988, the aptly-named O’Malley’s March has performed across the Washington D.C. and Maryland area at Irish venues and pubs. It remains one of the least expected and most interesting aspects of O’Malley’s life. The contrast between the experienced, polished politician describing how “the future of our country is going to depend … on the resilience of our democratic institutions” to a lecture hall full of future lawyers and the T-shirt-clad guitarist singing on a darkened pub stage couldn’t be stronger. It is these kinds of unexpected aspects of O’Malley that make him an interesting character in the political landscape.
O’Malley secured his position at Boston College this semester not because of the inherent melodic power of Irish folk-rock, but because of his non-musical accomplishments: a career in politics that has spanned nearly three decades and put him on the national stage.
Now that he is once again what he calls “the highest rank in the Republic,” a citizen, his time will be taken up in the world of academia and political thought here at BC, which he calls “one of the great universities in our country.”
When he arrived on Newton Campus this Tuesday and rushed into his office to sit for an interview with The Heights, he only had 30 minutes left before he was scheduled to deliver the first of a series of lectures and panel discussions. Just outside the door of the spacious and ornate office, a freshly-mounted plaque revealed the former governor of Maryland’s new title: Rappaport Center Distinguished Visiting Professor.
Before the interview, O’Malley intently worked on his tablet, not wasting a second of valuable time, as the video equipment was set up around him.
Just one year ago, his face was on televisions across the country as he debated alongside Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination. A year before that, he was finishing his eight-year tenure as Governor of Maryland, which came after eight years as Mayor of Baltimore. His political career began in 1991 when he was elected to the Baltimore city council after serving as the State’s Attorney. It is this experience that puts the “Distinguished” in “Distinguished Visiting Professor.” He has also worked to bring technology into governance, which explains the law school class he will teach this semester, Leadership and Data Driven Government. As a national figure of the Democratic party, he has played a big role in presenting solutions to the issues facing our country.
O’Malley reached this point after years of studying and political work. His past partly explains his decision to come to BC.
“I went to Gonzaga [College High School], so I’ve always had an affinity for the Jesuits and Jesuit institutions,” he said.
Catholic education was a major part of O’Malley’s upbringing. Growing up in a six-child household, what he called a “mid-size Irish Catholic family,” he went on to the Catholic University of America, before getting his law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law. He also cites Jesuit values, including the teachings of former BC theology professor Fr. David Hollenbach, S.J., whom he calls “one of the great political thinkers and writers,” as an important influence.
It was during his time at college that O’Malley first became directly involved in politics. He volunteered for Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign, where he showed up frequently and was gradually given more responsibility. The campaign was doomed for failure, but O’Malley took the chance to sink his teeth in the political world through the kind of grinding intern work BC students are used to.
Having gone from that young man volunteering for a campaign to a seasoned politician, he advises students to pursue whatever political goals they have, and to turn ambition into action.
“Follow that calling in your heart,” he said. “If, as especially a lot of people have experienced after the most recent presidential election, you feel something inside you saying, ‘I need to be more involved,’ go with that feeling.”
Judging from these answers and the topic of his talk, it seems clear that O’Malley is focused on preparing students for the future and encouraging political participation.
“You must step forward from the grassroots up by running for state and local office, by contributing more time and effort and your good names to local and state party action … This is something that we must do for ourselves,” he said.
As the interview ended, O’Malley was back to business. He grabbed his tablet and prepared the final touches for his upcoming talk a few buildings over. Five minutes later, he stood in front of a rapidly filling hall and told students that “the integrity of our democracy some days appears to be dissipating before our very eyes.”
For the next semester, students will have the opportunity to see more of this at various panel talks, and a few will learn directly from someone who has navigated the worlds of municipal, state, and national politics and has a new vision for the future.
At 54 years old, O’Malley has many political options ahead of him. When asked about his future plans, he quickly smiled.
“After my semester?” he said. “I intend to continue to write and to speak and to do all I can to accelerate and bring forward the goodness within our country, particularly in the hearts of our young people to become involved in politics, to run for office, to become active in every way possible in the years ahead.”
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Editor