BALTIMORE, Maryland (Reuters) - Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley blasted social injustice and Wall Street excesses as he launched a White House bid on Saturday, casting himself as a younger, more liberal alternative to Democratic Party frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
“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,” said O’Malley, opening his 2016 presidential campaign with a rally at a waterfront park in downtown Baltimore.
O’Malley, who has aggressively courted his party’s liberal wing, began his political career in Baltimore, first as a member of city council and then as mayor.
Decrying big banks as having been behind the financial crisis of 2008, O’Malley singled out Goldman Sachs for particular criticism. He said Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein recently told his employees that “he’d be just fine” with either Republican Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton as president after the November 2016 election.
“Well, I’ve got news for the bullies of Wall Street,” O’Malley said. “The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families.”
Hillary Clinton is the wife of former President Bill Clinton while Jeb Bush, who has not yet formally announced his candidacy but is already considered a leading contender among Republican hopefuls, is son and brother of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Signs at O’Malley’s rally promised he would provide “new leadership,” but in fact he faces an uphill battle against former secretary of state Clinton, who consistently tops opinion polls to be the party’s nominee, and who enjoys national name recognition.
Beth Whitmer, a 62-year-old Baltimore resident who called herself a social liberal, said she felt she knows Clinton’s stances better than O’Malley’s.
“I would’ve liked it to have been a little fuller,” she said of the speech.
O’Malley now goes on to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states holding the earliest party nominating contests.
O’Malley, 52, joins a short list of candidates for the Democratic nomination. Alongside Clinton, 67, only Vermont’s independent Senator Bernie Sanders has entered the race, and he is viewed as having a marginal shot at success.
So far, eight Republicans are officially competing for their party’s nomination, with more likely candidates waiting in the wings.
“Welcome to the race, Gov. O’Malley. Looking forward to discussing strong families and communities. -H,” Clinton tweeted soon after the rally.
O’Malley launched his campaign at an uneasy time for Baltimore, which was rocked by riots last month over the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man, from injuries sustained while in police custody. Many residents have said the former mayor’s “zero tolerance” crime policies led to increased police brutality.
O’Malley cast the violence in economic terms, saying rioting “was not only about race, not only about policing in America.”
“Conditions of extreme and growing poverty, create conditions for extreme violence,” he said.
Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group trying to push Democratic candidates to the left, praised his speech, saying he was so far “the only candidate to be outspoken about accountability for Wall Street bankers who committed crimes and crashed our economy.”
O’Malley honed his liberal credentials over two four-year terms as governor of a state with a long history of voting for Democratic presidential nominees.
He signed legislation that raised Maryland’s minimum wage, repealed the death penalty for future offenders, legalized same-sex marriage, and granted in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants attending Maryland’s universities.
He was born in Washington, D.C., and raised there and in Maryland. He attended the Catholic University of America in Washington and received his law degree from the University of Maryland. He lives in Maryland with his wife, a judge, and their four children.
(This story corrects Hillary Clinton’s age to 67 in paragraph 11)
Reporting by Amanda Becker; Writing by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Frances Kerry