Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley entered the Democratic presidential race on Saturday in a longshot challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton for the 2016 nomination, casting himself as a new generation leader who would rebuild the economy and reform Wall Street.
“I’m running for you,” he told a crowd of about 1,000 people in a populist message at Federal Hill Park in Baltimore, where he served as mayor before two terms as governor. O’Malley said was drawn into the campaign “to rebuild the truth of the American dream for all Americans.”
Following his announcement, O’Malley promptly headed to Iowa, where he is seeking to become the primary alternative to Clinton in the leadoff caucus state. Before more than fifty people at a union hall in Davenport, he touted his executive experience and called for economic reforms, drawing enthusiastic applause.
“We are still in just as grave a danger of having Wall Street excesses wreck our economy again and there’s not a need for it. When wealth concentrates as it has, it also concentrates and collects power and we have to retake control of our own government,” said O’Malley, who has made frequent visits to Iowa in recent months.
O’Malley, who will appear in New Hampshire Sunday, remains largely unknown in a field dominated by Clinton. Already in the race is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who could be O’Malley’s main rival for the support of the Democratic left.
An ally of former President Bill Clinton, O’Malley was the second governor to endorse Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007. But he made clear that he thinks Democrats deserve a choice in the 2016 primary.
“The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth … 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.”
He pointed to recent news reports that Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein would be “fine” with either Clinton or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a leading Republican contender and the son and brother of presidents, in the White House.
It was a forceful message that O’Malley will focus on overhauling the financial system, a priority for liberals opposed to the bailouts of Wall Street banks.
“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,” O’Malley said. “Tell me how it is, that you can get pulled over for a broken tail light, but if you wreck the nation’s economy you are untouchable?”
Aides said O’Malley called Hillary Clinton on Friday to tell her he was running. By Saturday afternoon, Clinton had tweeted, “Welcome to the race, Gov. O’Malley. Looking forward to discussing strong families and communities.”
The 52-year-old O’Malley has spoken often about the economic challenges facing the nation and said he would bring new leadership, progressive values and the ability to accomplish things.
“We are allowing our land of opportunity to be turned into a land of inequality,” he told the crowd.
O’Malley has presented himself to voters as a next-generation figure in the party, pointing to his record as governor on issues such as gay marriage, immigration, economic issues and the death penalty.
His tenure was marked by financial challenges posed by the recession, but O’Malley pushed through an increase in the state’s minimum wage while keeping record amounts of money flowing into the state’s education system. He backed a bill to allow same-sex marriage, which lawmakers passed and voters approved in 2012. He oversaw a sweeping gun-control measure and a repeal of the death penalty.
He also raised taxes on multiple occasions — on higher earners, sales of goods, vehicle titles, gasoline, cigarettes, sewer services and more. Republican critics branded him as a tax-and-spend liberal and the GOP defeated O’Malley’s hand-picked successor in 2014.
But his record on criminal justice has been scrutinized in recent weeks after riots in Baltimore broke out following the death of Freddie Gray, an African-American man who died in police custody following his arrest last month.
O’Malley was known for his tough-on-crime, “zero tolerance” policies that led to large numbers of arrests for minor offenses. Critics say it sowed distrust between police and the black community. Supporters note the overall decrease in violent crime during his tenure. O’Malley has defended his work to curb crime, saying he helped address rampant violence and drug abuse.
A few demonstrators gathered near the park to protest O’Malley’s criminal justice policies as mayor, an office he held from 1999 until his election as governor in 2006. During O’Malley’s speech, there was sporadic shouting from protesters, including one who blew a whistle.
O’Malley called the unrest “heartbreaking” but said “there is something to be learned from that night, and there is something to be offered to our country from those flames. For what took place here was not only about race, not only about policing in America. It’s about everything it is supposed to mean to be an American.”
Megan Kenny, 38, of Baltimore, who held a sign that said “stop killer cops” and yelled “black lives matter,” said she thought O’Malley’s decision to run was “a strange choice,” especially because of the recent rioting. She attributed the unrest to his “ineffective zero-tolerance policy.”
O’Malley could soon be joined in the Democratic field by former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who plans to make an announcement next week, and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who is exploring a potential campaign.
Sanders has raised more than $4 million since opening his campaign in late April and sought to build support among liberals in the party who are disillusioned with Clinton.
In a sign of his daunting task, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, his former boss and mentor, is supporting Clinton. She said in a statement that O’Malley “should follow his dreams. And while I’ve already announced my support for Hillary Clinton, I know that competition is good for democracy.”
In Iowa, 55-year-old Democratic activist Sara Riley, of Cedar Rapids, said she would support O’Malley if Vice President Joe Biden does not run.
“He can win Iowa,” she said of O’Malley, noting the state provides opportunities for underdog candidates. Still, she said: “I’m not going to pretend it’s easy.”
Thomas reported from Baltimore and Lucey reported from Davenport while Associated Press writer Brian Witte in Baltimore contributed.
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter: https://twitter.com/KThomasDC
SOURCE: KEN THOMAS and CATHERINE LUCEY
TRANSCRIPT OF SPEECH
As prepared for delivery:
My fellow Americans.
I want to talk with you today about The American Dream we share:
its powerful history,
its current condition, and most importantly,
its urgent need for rebuilding.
Our nation was founded on two self-evident truths.
That All of us are created equal.
And that we are endowed by our Creator with the rights to Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
With these words, the American dream began.
No fine print. No expiration date.
All of us are included.
Women and men.
Black and white people.
Irish Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Americans.
Young and old. Rich and poor. Workers and Business owners. Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and straight Americans.
Every person is important, each of us is needed.
In our idea of country, there is no such thing as a spare American.
There is, however, a growing injustice in our country today.
It is the gap between the strong and just country our children need for us to be and the country we are in danger of becoming.
For today in America, 70 percent of us are earning the same or less than they were 12 years ago. This is the first time that has happened this side of World War II.
Today in America, family owned businesses and farms are struggling to compete with ever larger concentrations of corporate power.
Fifty years ago, the nation’s largest employer was GM. An average GM employee could pay for a year’s tuition at a state university with two weeks’ wages.
Today in America, with dreams of college, a decent paying job, and a secure retirement slipping beyond the reach of so very many, the American Dream seems to be hanging by a thread.
And yet, for America there is always a yet.
The final thread that holds us just might be the strongest.
It is the thread of the generosity, the compassion, and the love of one another that brings us together as One American People.
For over 200 years we’ve been the architects of our own future. And now we must build anew today.
My father and mother, Tom and Barbara O’Malley, were born to the Great Depression and grew up as part of that great generation that won the Second World War. My dad flew 33 missions over Japan in a B-24 Liberator, and went on to college only because of the GI Bill.
My mom, herself, flew in the Civil Air Patrol at the age of seventeen.
They raised their children — the six of us — to a middle class future secured largely by the sacrifices and better choices of their generation.
But they would never accept the notion that somehow theirs was the “greatest generation.” For they believed and they taught us that every generation of Americans has the ability — and the sacred responsibility — to become great.
And so we must. No matter how long the odds, no matter how large the challenge, and no matter how tough the fight.
This is the urgent work calling us forward today: to rebuild the truth of the American Dream for ALL Americans. And to begin right now!
Last month, television sets around the world were filled with the anger and the rage, and the flames of some of the humblest and hardest hit neighborhoods of Baltimore.
For all of us who have given so much of our energies to making our city a safer, fairer, more just and more prosperous place, it was a heartbreaking night in the life of our City.
But there is something to be learned from that night, and there is something to be offered to our country from those flames.
For what took place here was not only about race, not only about policing in America.
It’s about everything it is supposed to mean to be an American.
The scourge of hopelessness that happened to ignite here that evening, transcends race or geography.
Witness the record numbers of young white kids killing themselves with heroin in suburbs and small towns across America.
The hard truth of our shared reality is this: Unemployment in many American cities and in many small towns across the United States is higher now than it was eight years ago.
Conditions of extreme and growing poverty, create conditions for extreme violence.
We have work to do.
Our economic and political system is upside down and backwards and it is time to turn it around.
What happened to our economy — what happened to the American Dream — did not happen by chance.
Nor was it merely the result of global forces somehow beyond our control.
Powerful, wealthy special interests here at home have used our government to create — in our own country — an economy that is leaving a majority of our people behind.
An economy that has so concentrated wealth in the hands of the very few that it has taken opportunity from the homes of the many.
An economy where a majority of our people are unheard, unseen, un-needed, and left to conclude that their lives and labors are literally worth less today than they were yesterday. And will be worth less still tomorrow.
We are allowing our land of opportunity to be turned into a land of inequality.
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.
Tell me how it is, that you can get pulled over for a broken tail light in our country, but if you wreck the nation’s economy you are untouchable.
This is not how our economy is supposed to work!
This is not how our country is supposed to work!
This is not the American Dream!
And it does not have to be this way!
This generation still has time to become great.
We have saved the world before and we must save our country now – and we will do that by rebuilding the American Dream!
As I look out here this morning over the original “land of the free and the home of the brave,” I see the faces of people who have done so much for so many in our City and our State.
Together, we made our City a safer, healthier and better place for kids.
Together, we made our city believe again. We invented a new and better way of governing called CitiStat, and we got things done.
Together, we made our State’s public schools the best in the United States. We made college more affordable for more families.
We led our people forward through a devastating national recession. We took greater care to protect our land, our air, and the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
We passed Marriage Equality and we passed the DREAM Act.
Together, we raised the minimum wage and we sustained the highest median income in America. We achieved top rankings for innovation, entrepreneurship, and minority and women’s business development.
Yes, understanding precedes action.
And it took new leadership. New perspectives. And new approaches.
But we believed in the dream, together we took action to make it real, and that is exactly what we must do as a nation today.
Our economy isn’t money, our economy is people — all of our people.
We measure success by the growing prosperity and security of our people – all of our people.
A stronger middle class is not the consequence of economic growth — a stronger middle class is the cause of economic growth.
Together, as one nation we must build an American economy that works again for all of us.
That means good jobs and wage policies that allow hardworking families to actually get ahead. That means a higher minimum wage, overtime pay for overtime work, and respect for the rights of all workers to organize and collectively bargain for better wages.
If we take these actions, the dream will live again.
Climate change is real. We must create an American jobs agenda to build a new renewable energy future.
We must launch a new agenda to rebuild America’s cities as places of Justice and Opportunity for all.
And if we take these actions, the dream will live again.
For the sake of our country’s security, and our country’s well-being, and our country’s economic growth, we must also bring 11 million of our neighbors out of the shadows by passing comprehensive immigration reform.
Because the enduring symbol of our nation is not the barbed wire fence, it is the Statue of Liberty.
We are a nation of immigrants. We are a compassionate and generous people. And if we act according to our principles — and the better angels of our nature — if we return to our true selves, the dream will live again.
Make no mistake about it — our ability to lead the world and be safe in this world depends on the strength of the American Dream here at home. The challenges we face in the world today are different from the challenges we faced in the 1990s.
Together, we must construct a New National Security Strategy and build new alliances that are forward-seeing and forward-acting.
The center of this new strategy must be the reduction of threats. Fast-evolving threats — from violent extremism, pandemic, cyber attacks, nuclear proliferation, nation-state failures, to the drought, famine, and floods of climate change.
Together, we must craft a New Foreign Policy of Engagement and Collaboration. We must join with like-minded people around the world — especially with nations here in our own hemisphere — for the cause we share of a rising global middle class.
We must put our national interest first, we must put America first.
But we cannot rebuild the American Dream here at home by catering to the voices of the privileged and the powerful.
Let’s be honest. They were the ones who turned our economy upside-down in the first place. And they are the only ones who are benefiting from it.
We need to prosecute cheats, we need to reinstate Glass-Steagall, and if a bank is too big to fail without wrecking our nation’s economy then it needs to be broken up before it breaks us again.
Goldman Sachs is one of the biggest repeat-offending investment banks in America. Recently, the CEO of Goldman Sachs let his employees know that he’d be just fine with either Bush or Clinton.
I bet he would.
Well, 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.
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.
The only way we are going to rebuild the American Dream is if we re-take control of our own American government!
The poet laureate of the American Dream, Bruce Springsteen, once asked:
Is a dream a lie, if it don’t come true?
Or is it something worse?
Whether the American dream becomes a lie, or becomes an ongoing truth that our children can enjoy, can build upon, can live, is really up to you and me.
It is up to all of us.
It’s not about Wall Street, not about the big five banks, it’s not even about big money trying to buy our elections.
It’s about U.S.
It is about whether, together, We the People still have the will to become great Americans.
I believe we do.
My decision is made.
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.”
When you see a dad sweating through another long shift in order to give his daughter a better future, I want you to be able to tell him, “I voted for you.”
When you see a mom working long hours at two jobs for the dream of sending her son to college, I want you to be able to tell her, “I voted for you.”
When you see a young father who hungers for a decent job to support his family, I want you to be able to tell him, “I voted for you.”
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!
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.
May God Bless you and may God Bless the United States of America.