Roman à clef
July 24, 2014 6:02 AM   Subscribe

David Simon runs into Governor Martin O'Malley on the Acela. O'Malley, current governor of Maryland and former mayor of Baltimore, was one of the inspirations for Tommy Carcetti, the ambitious Baltimore politician in Simon's series The Wire. O'Malley hates this connection, and has let Simon know. Still, both Simon and O'Malley were able to put aside differences and share a beer and a photo.

Simon and O'Malley talked about the recent spat between the White House and the governor over immigration, their mutual like of The Pouges, and some other off the record topics. In the comments on his blog, Simon discusses the use of off the record sources. Though Simon has a rather jaundiced view of O'Malley, he also mentions two issues where he's proud of him: the death penalty and gay rights. O'Malley is mulling a presidential run, but would have to contend not only with the Hillary Clinton, but also Tommy Carcetti.

At they parted, O'Malley suggested both of them suffer from Irish Alzheimer’s. As the governor explained, "That’s where you…"

“…only remember the grudges,” Simon finished.
posted by spaltavian (45 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Little Finger! I hadn't thought about Carcetti in a long time. I wish I could get my wife to watch the Wire. That was one hell of a show.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:16 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think O'Malley would like being connected to Littlefinger even less!
posted by spaltavian at 6:19 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]




At they parted, O'Malley suggested both of them suffer from Irish Alzheimer’s. As the governor explained, "That’s where you…"

“…only remember the grudges,” Simon finished.


Love it. But really, O'Malley doesn't have a "Carcetti problem" if he runs in 2016. (He has more of a "Martin O'Who?" problem.) Outside of Metafilter's rarefied circles, the percentage of people who have seen The Wire is not all that high.
posted by duffell at 6:48 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


... and the number of people who'd make the O'Malley/Carcetti connection, or assume fictional television shows are in fact documentaries of actual events, is even lower.
posted by duffell at 6:49 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


That was more of a joke, but the "Carcetti problem" is less that people would think O'Malley is just like the character, but more that in embodies what a lot of people think about Baltimore and large cities in general. O'Malley prides himself on the reduction of crime in the city during his tenure, and The Wire undermines that argument.

I don't think it matters what percentage of people have seen The Wire. Opponents will pick and choose references, develop shorthands, etc. Much the same way "community organizer" has become a term of abuse towards the president despite most people having absolutely no idea what Obama did while living in Chicago. Link O'Malley and The Wire, and a certain number of people are going to think "inner city crime". I don't think any serious presidential candidate has had a character on a TV show based on him before: it's going to come up.

As for people who have seen the series, I wouldn't be suprised if they were disproportionately engaged politically, and the pre-primary period of money raising is about "rarefied circles". Whether those people would allow The Wire to influence them in any way is another question.
posted by spaltavian at 6:56 AM on July 24, 2014


the percentage of people who have seen The Wire is not all that high.

The percentage of people who read Savage Love is pretty low, too. And yet, the santorum problem remains.
posted by Etrigan at 6:58 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Tommy Carcetti is one of those characters I yell at whenever he appears onscreen (Magic Man from Adventure Time being the other, ugh goddammit Magic Man), and it took me until the most recent season of Game of Thrones before I stopped being all like "noooo, watch out, it's Tommy Carcetti!" Although it's not like Littlefinger shouldn't be watched out for, too.

Even if people don't connect O'Malley to Carcetti specifically, I think enough people will think "Baltimore? Like from The Wire? Weren't all the government officials on that show, like, totally corrupt?" that the deck's probably stacked against nearly anyone involved in Baltimore politics.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:00 AM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Remember Bedtime for Bonzo?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:00 AM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


As long as Hillary Clinton is still in the running for 2016, O'Malley's so-called Carcetti problem is moot. As a Clinton loyalist, he's probably trying to position himself as a potential running mate, or run for president in the unlikely event that Clinton herself doesn't run. In either case, the Carcetti issue will matter much less than his botched rollout of Maryland Health Connection, the ACA exchange for the state. On the other hand, a story about that whole mess would make for a great Season 6 of the The Wire.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:34 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


he's probably trying to position himself as a potential running mate

Ugh please no!!! I just...he has the stink of phony-ness about him. I've never liked him and I don't trust him.
posted by sallybrown at 7:50 AM on July 24, 2014


I think it's cute that they both like the Pogues.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:52 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Likes The Pogues, but drinks Corona? Something is deeply wrong here.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:02 AM on July 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


Why the heck would HRC choose a Maryland governor as a running mate? Was there a chance Maryland would go for the Republican candidate?
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:03 AM on July 24, 2014


Was there a chance Maryland would go for the Republican candidate?

Was there a chance Delaware would go for McCain in 2008? VP candidates don't always have to come from swing states.
posted by Cash4Lead at 8:05 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I probably should not admit this here, but I have never seen the wire so know not the reference to one of the characters, but I thought the fact that he was willing to talk to Simon made O'Malley at least a quarter step above most politicians. As for the Corona, know that the beer selection on an Acela is limited.
posted by 724A at 8:14 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Why the heck would HRC choose a Maryland governor as a running mate? Was there a chance Maryland would go for the Republican candidate?

He provides executive and local-government experience, which are place that Clinton might be seen as lacking. Four out of the last six presidents were governors first; the last president with Cabinet experience was Hoover. O'Malley isn't a dream running mate, but he wouldn't be an insane choice.
posted by Etrigan at 8:22 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why the heck would HRC choose a Maryland governor as a running mate? Was there a chance Maryland would go for the Republican candidate?


Swing-state status matters a lot less than it would seem. Think of the states the last Vice Presidents have been from -- Biden's Delaware and Cheney's Wyoming are hardly competitive. Al Gore's Tennessee might've been on the edge of swing state status in 2000, but before then you'd be hard-pressed to find a competitive state. Quayle (Indiana), HW Bush (Texas), Mondale (Minnesota), Ford was never elected, Agnew (Maryland), Humphrey (Minnesota), etc...
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 8:28 AM on July 24, 2014


but drinks Corona?

It's the Acela, there aren't lots of options. Not sure how many politicians would even openly drink a beer in public that wasn't a photo-op, to be honest.
posted by spaltavian at 8:36 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Not really related but I feel the need to share my politics-and-amtrak story:

My gf and I shared an Amtrak ride with a pair of retired congressmen who had gotten on the wrong train. They made sure to mention the fact that they were retired congressmen as often and as loudly as possible, monopolized the time of both ticket takers (attendants?) for the better part of an hour as they struggled to understand the the concepts of "this is not an Acela train", "you have to call Amtrak and change your ticket if you're going to stay here" and "the Acela might pass us or they might not, we have no way to tell".

In the end they called their assistant and had her call Amtrak. They were just insufferable people to be around. Why yes they do now work at a lobbying firm, why do you ask?
posted by Skorgu at 8:42 AM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's the Acela, there aren't lots of options.

The other beer choices on the Acela are Bud Light, Coors Light, Heineken, Sam Adams and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. I leave it up to persons who drink beer to assess the validity of the choice of Corona Extra.

The sad fact is that the worst PR aspect of this particular story probably isn't any Wire comparisons, it's that Gov. O'Malley has been seen willingly taking public transportation in America.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:50 AM on July 24, 2014


My gf and I shared an Amtrak ride with a pair of retired congressmen who had gotten on the wrong train.

Old habits die hard.
posted by Pudhoho at 8:57 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think O'Malley is a little bit too bland to run for President, although I've never disliked him like some Marylanders do. The ire he raises in Republican Marylanders is something special. One mention of his name will have them cursing about rain taxes and so forth.

I can sort of see both sides of The Wire beef. Simon's job is to tell stories about the town he loves and to fight for social justice. O'Malley's job is (or was) to keep the wheels turning as well as possible within the confines of the democratic process. When I mention my affinity for Baltimore to people from outside the state, a common reaction is awe about my ability to survive in a war zone. The sad truth of it is that there are two very separate Baltimores, and only occasionally do they overlap. Simon wanted to tell the story of the Baltimore that doesn't get told that often, but people with no context tend to conflate the two.

As for the ACA exchange fiasco, that was mostly Anthony Brown's project, and regardless of it he just got ostensibly elected to governor in the Democratic primary, with a little bit of formality left in the general election. By the time O'Malley is a serious contender for the presidency (which I don't think is 2016) that will be the distant, distant past.
posted by codacorolla at 9:26 AM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am one of those life-long Baltimorons who will say to whomever will listen that The Wire is the worst thing to ever happen to Baltimore. I find David Simon to be unforgiveably smug when this subject comes up, vacillating between "it's a fictional show" and "yes, things are that bad".

Say what you will, there are lots of people out there who think Baltimore is exactly what they say it is in The Wire. When I was in law school in DC, and I told people I was taking a job in Baltimore, numerous people (who were considering jobs in DC and NYC) said to me, "You're going to work in Baltimore? You're going to get killed - haven't you seen The Wire?" And these are students from a good law school who should be able to distinguish fiction from reality.

The negative impression of Baltimore remains, despite the fact that The Wire was a show that premiered 12 years ago, based on David Simon's work at the Baltimore Sun between 1982 and 1995. It is a TV show based on Simon's impressions of what Baltimore was like 20-30 years ago.

While no one would look at a TV show about New York or Los Angeles or Miami in the 1980s and think those conditions were still true today, people do that about Baltimore and The Wire every day. This ignores the fact that violent crime has been dropping in Baltimore every year -- from 21,799 violent crimes in 1993 to 9,316 in 2010, a reduction of 3.0 incidents per 100 residents to 1.6 incidents per 100 residents.

I love my city, and I support our politicians (most of them) and police commissioner and others who are doing good work to make the city safer. I want the rest of the country to know about Baltimore's culture and its thriving art scene, and not simply dismiss Baltimore as a cess pool based on one fictional TV show.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:48 AM on July 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


While no one would look at a TV show about New York or Los Angeles or Miami in the 1980s and think those conditions were still true today...

Have you met people?
posted by Etrigan at 9:56 AM on July 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


Ben Trismegistus, I love Baltimore too! And yeah, the "but the The Wire!" reaction the city sometimes gets drives me crazy. I've even seen it here on MetaFilter. In fact, I remember one comment by someone who thought all of Maryland was a "cracked out hell hole" because of the show. Not only is Maryland beautiful, and the richest state and most educated state (sometimes trading 1st and 2nd with New Jersey), Baltimore's drug of choice is heroin! The "cracked out" thing was such a lazy, generic-inner-city-90s meme from someone who apparently never noticed what product they sold in The Wire.

However, that doesn't mean The Wire isn't a towering achievement. I wince that it exposes so much that is wrong with my city and state, but the show is ultimately about the failure of institutions. These failing insitutions are everywhere in America. Baltimore is not necessarily the highest exemplar of these failures, but it's a very interesting, authentic place to explore them. There's a lot of ugliness in The Wire, but if someone watching it didn't come away with some idea of what's good about Baltimore, about why Baltimore is worth saving, they missed a big part of the show, and are therefore just a lame hipster.
posted by spaltavian at 10:04 AM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


“…only remember the grudges,” Simon finished.

In my family Irish Alzheimer's was defined as "only remembering who it is you hate for the past five generations." And they're also Baltimoreans.

Wow, how weird that the Irish would disagree on something, I know I know.
posted by psoas at 10:13 AM on July 24, 2014


In the end they called their assistant and had her call Amtrak. They were just insufferable people to be around. Why yes they do now work at a lobbying firm, why do you ask?

And how do Sens. Lott and Breaux look in person?
posted by the sobsister at 10:17 AM on July 24, 2014


While no one would look at a TV show about New York or Los Angeles or Miami in the 1980s and think those conditions were still true today

This is pretty much the premise for every current cop show.
posted by atbash at 10:17 AM on July 24, 2014


On the other point, I want to say that, while I like O'Malley and am pleased with the job he's done, he's definitely not ready for a presidential run. His speech at the 2012 convention was clumsy and forgettable, and I'm not sure he has the charisma for the national stage.

I do think he'd be an excellent VP pick for Hillary, although I can also see that other candidates might be better choices. After all, Maryland doesn't have the best record at providing Vice Presidents.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:38 AM on July 24, 2014


Agreed on O'malley as an excellent Governor and manager of actual governing, and a fairly uncharismatic and wooden candidate. Better for him to be a VP or cabinet head.
posted by jetsetsc at 10:57 AM on July 24, 2014


The negative impression of Baltimore remains, despite the fact that The Wire was a show that premiered 12 years ago, based on David Simon's work at the Baltimore Sun between 1982 and 1995. It is a TV show based on Simon's impressions of what Baltimore was like 20-30 years ago.

By the way, how are things in the suburb of Mortville these days? Is Carlotta still running the place?
posted by TedW at 11:00 AM on July 24, 2014


I find David Simon to be unforgiveably smug when this subject comes up, vacillating between "it's a fictional show" and "yes, things are that bad".

Things kind of are that bad, though. Just because Baltimore has a thriving art scene and a reduced murder rate doesn't deny that there are very clearly two separate versions of Baltimore - and America, in general - which is one of the central themes of The Wire. Not "This city is awful, right? It's overrun with drug dealers and crime!" - people who took this away from the show likely did not really watch it, or bother approaching it with any kind of critical thinking. I'm more inclined to believe they were flipping channels and saw black drug dealers in the ghetto on their screen, and then they made up their mind from there. Screw 'em, we don't want them moving to Baltimore anyway.

Simon, in the Baltimore Magazine article:

Is it too much for the other America to see itself reflected in one television drama, to have—amid all the wealth and beauty and self-gratification—a single viewing experience to call their own, a solitary drama that addresses itself to their world? The Wire is the one continuing series set in the shadowland of the ghetto, in the America that we have discarded politically, economically, and emotionally. Are we saying, that for the sake of Baltimore’s civic image, that it’s one drama too many?
posted by windbox at 11:44 AM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


What is your basis for saying that "[t]hings kind of are that bad"? Or, at least, that the crime/drugs/corruption in Baltimore is or was any worse than in any city in America? I'm not denying that there is crime and poverty and bad things in Baltimore. But I guarantee that if you talk to most people around the country and ask what they know about Baltimore, the one thing they will be able to think of is The Wire, and will assume that Baltimore is a drug-ridden cess pool. They may also remember that we like steamed crabs.

That quote from Simon is the sort of smugness I was talking about. Simon has won the battle for Baltimore's civic image, by creating what some people consider to be the best TV series ever made. So it's rubbing salt in the wound for him to complain when some of us are bothered by what he has done to the city's reputation.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:56 AM on July 24, 2014


In my family Irish Alzheimer's was defined as... .

In mine, who are Irish, it's a degenerative brain condition... And a weird thing to joke about.

Something about drinking and fighting should be next, right?
posted by knapah at 11:58 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Simon should totally create Bolton Abbey to compensate.

Not even sure if I'm joking
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:25 PM on July 24, 2014


What is your basis for saying that "[t]hings kind of are that bad"? Or, at least, that the crime/drugs/corruption in Baltimore is or was any worse than in any city in America?

The show is not about how Baltimore is worse than other cities.
posted by windbox at 12:25 PM on July 24, 2014 [9 favorites]


If O'Malley was smart, he'd run for the US Senate if a seat came open (which it might since Barbara Mikulski will be 80 when her term is up in 2016). He could get some experience and then run in 2020 or later. But I doubt he would -- everything he has done up to this point in his career has seemed to be very much calculated to advance him up to the next rung on the ladder.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 1:03 PM on July 24, 2014


The show is not about how Baltimore is worse than other cities.

No, but it is about how the drug economy is invisible in the media that most people consume. So, and I say this as a great fan of The Wire, I think the argument is that people who live elsewhere imagine that Baltimore is all that, because it's invisible to them even in their own cities.

Anecdotally, I can see O'Malley's point; having lived in Toronto and Boston since The Wire started, I haven't met anyone who, when I told them I grew up in Baltimore, reacted anywhere from "is is all like The Wire?" to "I never want to go there." They see it on TV and assume it is a there and not a here.
posted by transient at 1:36 PM on July 24, 2014


I lived in Baltimore (City) from 2002-2006 and yep, things were that bad. It was utterly non-fictional for a majority of the population who didn't live anywhere near your cutesy art scene. Even Hamden was 90% on the nod at the time. I understand why O'Malley can't like the Wire, but everyone else from Maryland is required to by law, sorry.

Anyway, awesome happenstance and great writing by Mr. Simon as usual. Something about this:

"At one point, we both lamented the death last year of Pogues guitarist Phil Chevron and sang some lyrics to Chevron’s magnificent “Faithful Departed"

Even made me tear up a little. Drink with your enemies y'all. They deserve it and so do you.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:40 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


One thing that's clear in the Wire is how much Simon loves Baltimore. That somebody can love a city that much makes me want to visit to see what he loves about it.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:37 PM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think it's a good point that this is a show that's set in Baltimore, but isn't about Baltimore specifically. The decline of unionized high paid labor (season 2), small-scale corruption and endless cycles of hope and defeat in municipal politics (season 3), the problems of education amid generational poverty (season 4) and the mindless futility of the drug war (throughout) are problems that run throughout most major American cities.
posted by codacorolla at 2:41 PM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]




Another former Baltimoron here, I left a bit over 10 years ago. I miss it a lot.

We used to have ourselves a good laugh at local TV news when first moved to Seattle. Two minutes on an attempted murder? Ha! Why don't you just go on and report on cats stuck in trees.

I do understand how a lifer of The Greatest City in America (yes our mayor put that on the benches) could resent The Wire as some kind of judgment and civic black eye. But for me, the Wire came out just after I moved away, and it was like a love letter. It helped me see things I experienced but didn't understand at the time. It also was a great boost to my narrative credibility when telling Baltimore stories, which always sounded like tall tales. This is a widely reported phenomenon, by the way.

Let me just say that if there is anything true about Baltimore, it's that it can be an entirely different city depending on your cross street--and your life circumstances, too. While in my late 20's/early 30's, Baltimore became a different place to me each year as my circle widened, as I moved neighborhoods, as I got caught up in adventures, as I served jury duty, as I separated from my wife, as new people moved in, as I got robbed and as I experienced kindness as well, as I explored as anyone lives life in a big city, I guess. Except it usually felt like a small city, with all kinds of extremeness seeping in under the door. Trips to the shore . . . billboards for heroin detox . . . late night pool and weirdos buying beer . . . steamed crabs on newspaper . . . softball and tech startups . . . murders on my doorstep . . . great shows and near misses . . . My Baltimore was nobody else's Baltimore. The Wire seems true to me in a storytelling sense. It tells some tall tales in a city that bleeds great stories. No one can be singularly right about that place (any place?), maybe no one can be all that wrong, either.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 3:37 PM on July 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


Sorry; in my comment above I meant to write "haven't reacted..."
posted by transient at 11:33 PM on July 26, 2014


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