By JONATHAN N. CRAWFORD, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Hundreds of people from Maryland and beyond who came to Annapolis to see the new administration of Martin O'Malley ushered in Wednesday braved stinging cold temperatures on a bright and cloudless day to witness an inauguration marked by pomp and ritual.
"I wish it was 50 degrees warmer, but I wouldn't miss it for the world," said Mike Stratton, who came from Denver to see the swearing in of O'Malley, whom he called a longtime friend from past political campaigns.
In keeping with tradition, official Annapolis was decked out in patriotic finery and serenaded from early morning until mid-afternoon with live and recorded music.
U.S. and Maryland flags measuring 30 feet by 20 feet flanked each side of the West Portico of the State House where the inaugural ceremony took place. State troopers and military personnel stood at attention in their dress uniforms.
To kick off the pre-inaugural ceremony the 229th U.S. Army National Guard from Baltimore played "God Bless America" and John Philip Sousa's "The Washington Post" march. Later in the day, the Morgan State University Choir, dressed in blue robes, sang "Maryland, My Maryland."
And before O'Malley delivered a short - for him - inaugural address 19 muffled booms rang out from six 105 mm. Maryland National Guard howitzers.
Witnessing it all was a platform full of dignitaries, including prominent Maryland politicians, top Democratic Party leaders and even a sprinkling of diplomats from Washington.
Most prominent, perhaps, was the new speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy D. Pelosi, D-Calif., who provided perhaps the best laugh line of the day, albeit unintentionally, when she slipped up and predicted the freshly-sworn in O'Malley would be "a great governor of California."
Pelosi, a Baltimore native and member of the city's D'Alessandro political family, quickly recovered by saying how much she felt at home in Maryland.
Also in the crowd was the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean. Asked why he had come, the former Vermont governor anointed O'Malley a "rising star" in Democratic politics, but also noted that then-Baltimore mayor O'Malley had backed Dean's unsuccessful presidential campaign.
The day began with O'Malley and his lieutenant governor, Anthony G. Brown, attending what was called a prayer and thank you breakfast in Prince George's County. They then went to the governor's mansion, where in keeping with tradition they and their families were led through a cordon of state and local police officers to the State House across the street.
Both men took the oath of office in the Senate Chamber in a ceremony administered by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell. O'Malley was accompanied to the podium of the cramped and ornate Senate chamber by his wife, Baltimore District Court Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley, and their four children - one of whom, four-year-old Jack, threatened to steal the show as he twisted and squirmed while his mother gamely tried to focus his attention on the matters at hand.
After taking the oath of office - once inside and once again before the public - and delivering their speeches, O'Malley and Brown were led through yet another police cordon to a stand where they viewed a loud but colorful 45-minute inaugural parade. It featured over 40 groups including high school marching bands and various business organizations.
The procession featured representatives of various ethnic groups - Americans of Chinese, Asian Indian, African, Hispanic, Irish, Vietnamese and Greek backgrounds. In what appeared to be a moment of spontaneous, unscripted delight, the faces of both Gov. and Judge O'Malley lit up with glee when they spotted among the elderly men marching with the Italian Americans Thomas A. D'Alessandro III, a former Baltimore mayor and the older brother of Nancy Pelosi.
"Tommy!" the new first lady exclaimed when she spotted him waving an Italian flag.
The outgoing first lady, Kendell Ehrlich, attended the inaugural ceremony but did not share the same festive attitude.
"You know we're a little disappointed, obviously," she said. "But we also recognize that this is a democracy. It's handing over of government and of power in a peaceful way which is really what the country was built on."
The event featured a few personalized touches by the O'Malley transition group. Music by Irish rock bands The Corrs and U2 was played over the speakers. And a banner with O'Malley's trademark slogan One Maryland hung behind the stage.
The cold air was a lot to bear for some people. Sitting between the State House and Lawyer's Mall, among the barren crab apple trees, the crowd waited in the frosty air, bundled in fur coats, hats and gloves. Shirley Hamilton, 61, a Maryland state worker from Upper Marlboro, donned her fur and leather coat for the first time this winter.
Maer Hofer, 53, from La Plata, appreciated the inaugural event for its unique quality.
"There's a real festive atmosphere. A new government is coming in. It's not something you experience every day," she said.