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Irish Immigrant Is Nexus of O’Malley’s DGA

Tom Williams/Roll Call

His first job was working in the development office for his alma mater in Boston. That led to positions at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (also in development), and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government (as director of alumni programs).

When Boston College received money to help the peace process in Northern Ireland, O’Comartun was hired as director of the Irish Institute. Instead of making peace and reconciliation the goal, O’Comartun came to realize that “we were in the good-government business.”

It was a different approach to healing years of distrust.

As Northern Ireland moved toward self-governance, O’Comartun brought groups of Irish leaders (including Nationalists and Unionists) who were suspicious of each other to the United States for two weeks to visit with American leaders and learn about best practices. The discussions gave the Irish delegates a mechanism to discuss their own issues indirectly by questioning U.S. officials.

Alasdair McDonnell, a member of the U.K. Parliament for South Belfast and a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, first met O’Comartun in Boston and subsequently during a trip to O’Malley’s Baltimore. McDonnell remembered O’Comartun as a “very dynamic, professional young man.”

“Even at that stage, it was obvious he had the drive to go places,” McDonnell told Roll Call in a phone interview from Belfast.

O’Comartun and O’Malley also met through the visits. O’Comartun brought a delegation to Baltimore to meet with the newly elected white mayor of a majority-black city and connected with a man navigating his own issues of distrust with his constituency. O’Comartun also helped bring O’Malley to Northern Ireland.

When the mayor found out that O’Comartun was looking to do something more, O’Malley brought him onto his team.

O’Comartun started in the mayor’s office in 2002 as a special assistant working with the vice mayor. But he was spending more and more time with O’Malley, and their relationship grew beyond their shared heritage.

When O’Comartun starts talking about systems and the delivery of city services, the pace of his speech (and unmistakable Irish accent) accelerates.

“On economic development, he’s a policy wonk behind that accent,” according to David Dixon, O’Malley’s media consultant. But O’Comartun is also more than that. 

“He’s strategic in understanding how policy works with message,” Dixon added. “He was the person who helped localize the big picture economic messages we were talking about in the campaign. He put a Maryland face on it.”

O’Comartun helped tailor television ads during the governor’s re-election race to highlight the work O’Malley had done in various media markets.

From 2006, when O’Malley defeated incumbent Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), to their rematch last fall, O’Comartun knows what it’s like to go through a competitive race.

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