Back in 1995 I shared a Clinton presidential bus trip with a young City Council member from Baltimore called Martin O’Malley.
We were in Belfast and it was the most remarkable trip of my life.
To see an American president come to Belfast, walk up and down the Falls and Shankill roads and engage in making the U.S. a major player in the Northern Irish peace process was the experience of a lifetime.
Because we were seatmates O'Malley and I got to chatting, and I soon learned that the young politician who still looked like he would be in college was deeply proud of his Irish Catholic heritage, and fiercely ambitious also.
President Clinton already knew about the young man and pointed him out as a politician with a very bright future.
With roots in Galway and Mayo O’Malley could easily have got away with the St. Patrick's Day Irish shtick and playing the professional Irishman, but he cared far more than that.
He gave me a history lesson on 1916 and the War of Independence and established himself as an Irish American worth knowing.
In 1999 he became mayor of Baltimore, served two terms, and then served two terms as Maryland governor.
He was almost as famous as the lead singer in O’Malley’s March, his Celtic rock-themed band which even played the White House in 2012.
Now, ironically, he takes on the Clinton clan and runs for president of the United States.
It is a big step up and a long way away from that City Council member I first knew, but I am not surprised.
At age 52 O’Malley has the political resume, looks, ability and charm to make a leap into a presidential field.
Whether he can win is something else altogether. As many readers will know I am firmly in the Hillary Clinton camp, but I still believe O’Malley could bring a lot to the Democratic ticket.
I see him as a very viable vice presidential candidate following on the Joe Biden trail, an Irish Catholic who helps out significantly in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
O'Malley is a devout Catholic in the Pope Francis mould. Asked once by Esquire about the great influences on his life he said, “My father taught me that the only thing that lasts in this world is being good to other people. And when I was in high school, I got to observe a Jesuit priest by the name of Father Horace McKenna, who ran a mission out of the basement of St. Aloysius Church. He gave his entire life to serving the poor, and he truly did see the face of God in every individual that he served.”
A Pope Francis-themed campaign would certainly set O’Malley apart at a time when right wing religious opinions are much more to the fore.
His chance of a lifetime starts now. It will be fascinating to see how he does.