Michael Enright, a Gonzaga classmate who became O'Malley's deputy mayor in Baltimore and chief of staff in Annapolis, described the pair's first conversation at age 14. They were at a bus stop in Washington, waiting to be carried back to the suburbs, and Martin was snacking on goldfish crackers. "Some homeless guy came up, muttering, kind of delusional, dove his hand into Martin's bag of goldfish, and started eating them," Enright said. "Going down to Gonzaga, that was what you signed up for. You saw urban life." The two teenagers started talking, and an enduring friendship was born.
By then, O'Malley was already an Irish history aficionado, a musician, and a budding politico. As a child, he followed election returns when his godfather ran for office, and he handed out leaflets for a family friend in another race. As a college student, he worked for Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign, including spending a few weeks in Iowa. As a law student, he ran the field operation for then-Rep. Mikulski's 1986 Senate campaign. It was a fateful job, in part because it afforded him his first glimpse of Katie Curran, his future wife.
He says she walked into the English Consul Democratic Club on the arm of her father, Lt. Gov. J. Joseph Curran Jr., who was running for attorney general. "I said to Barbara Mikulski, 'Who's that?'" O'Malley recalls. " 'Joe Curran's secret weapon, his beautiful daughter Katie,' " she replied.
The year 1990 was seminal for O'Malley in two ways. He married Katie, and he made his first run for office -- a primary challenge to state Sen. John Pica of Baltimore. O'Malley's brother Peter, seven years younger and a student at Catholic University, ran the campaign with help from Patrick, another brother, and Enright. They did their own opposition research. Peter O'Malley says he and Patrick combed Pica's voting records to discover that he had missed more votes than any other member of the state Senate. They also did their own polling, he says. Martin wrote the questions, and they all made the calls, using lists they bought to achieve a scientific result.
O'Malley spent less than $35,000 on the campaign and ended up losing by 44 votes, so close that his friends and family were elated. He says he realized belatedly, "I was the only dope on the campaign" who had expected to win. He was stung, but also encouraged. By the next year, he was working at a law firm by day and campaigning by night for a Baltimore City Council seat. He'd pick up his infant daughter Grace from Katie, who was taking an evening bar-review course, and go door-to-door as long as Grace would stand for it. He won the seat, and his course was set.
What was it about Baltimore that drew O'Malley? "There's probably a biography in the answer to that question," he responds. It started with what he calls his "immersion" into Mikulski's world of friends, family, and supporters. "I felt more at home in Baltimore after one year of law school and Barbara Mikulski's campaign than I ever felt in the Maryland suburbs of Washington," he says. "It is a city with a very unpretentious blue-collar work ethic .... I just found something about it very attractive when I moved there for law school, and wanted to stay."