Martin O’Malley, a relative unknown in the 2016 Democratic presidential race, will likely remain that way for a while — by his own choosing.
O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who wants to mount an underdog challenge to juggernaut candidate Hillary Clinton, spent Friday morning in blue, voter-rich Miami — not with average voters, but at a private fundraiser.
He met behind closed doors at Perricone’s Marketplace & Café in Brickell with a robust crowd of suits assembled by former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, a 2008 Clinton supporter who now backs O’Malley, his friend from when O’Malley was Baltimore mayor.
O'Malley posed for photographs and made his pitch about bringing executive experience and urban agenda to the White House if he runs, according to several people in attendance. A Miami Herald reporter who showed up and was initially let into the fundraiser was kicked out before O'Malley's remarks. His campaign said he would not hold any public events or media interviews while in South Florida, though he has been accessible to reporters so far during his unofficial campaign.
Attendees described O'Malley as forceful, optimistic and eager to "stay in touch" with them. He asked people to raise their hands if they were better off than their parents. Most did. When he asked again if their children would be better off than them, most didn't.
O'Malley emphasized increasing wages, closing the inequality gap and revitalizing cities. He was "careful," however, when addressing the recent unrest in Baltimore, one attendee said. Another said O'Malley "distanced" himself from the riots that erupted after the death of Freddie Gray under police custody.
O'Malley has defended his tenure as mayor, which included enforcing "zero-tolerance" policies that lowered city crime but, critics say, fueled distrust between communities and the police. On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a wide-ranging investigation into Baltimore's police department.
At one point Friday, O'Malley noted that Perricone's was struggling for business before downtown Miami's boom -- a compliment to Diaz, who was mayor at the time but faced criticism about over-development when he left office and the real-estate market went belly-up.
The breakfast was attended by a cadre of moderates-to-liberals from Miami's civic elite. Several people conceded they showed up more for Diaz than for O'Malley but said they left "intrigued" about how O'Malley would play against Clinton. Diaz had billed the event as a meet-and-greet rather than one requiring a political contribution to O'Malley's political action committee.
Here's a photo of the event posted to Twitter by radio-show host Fred Menachem and provided to the Herald as a courtesy. From left to right, the photo shows Menachem, O'Malley, Diaz and Menachem co-host Julio Avael.