Interview: Martin O’Malley
Before becoming Maryland’s 61st governor in 2006, Martin O’Malley, 50, served as mayor of Baltimore, where he succeeded in reducing crime, raising education levels and expanding the local economy. He has visited Israel on two occasions and is a big promoter of trade and investment between Israel and Maryland. In 2002, Esquire magazine named O’Malley “The Best Young Mayor in the Country.” He has been the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association since 2011 and is on the list of possible Democratic presidential candidates for 2016.
Q. You are taking a delegation to Israel again in the Spring. What economic opportunities are you seeking?
A. [My] delegation includes business, academic, scientific, Jewish community leaders from throughout the state of Maryland [as well as] the presidents of the University of Maryland College Park and Baltimore campuses. Combined, this includes the full spectrum of science, engineering, biomedical sciences and health care [fields]. I’m enthusiastic about the depth of collaboration they are going to explore with their counterparts in Israel. We also have a number of business executives and entrepreneurs coming to pursue business and new technology for their firms. Also, because I’m going to both Israel and Jordan, I’m excited that leaders from the Jewish and Muslim communities in Maryland are accompanying me.
Q. Can you describe Maryland’s unique ties to Israel?
A. The famous ship Exodus originally sailed Chesapeake Bay. It left from the Port of Baltimore on its historic mission to save Holocaust refugees from Europe and take them to Israel. In more recent times, we have also been the location for key rounds of Israeli-Arab peace talks including the most successful at Camp David as well as the Wye River Plantation Talks and the Annapolis Summit.
Q. The United States Chamber of Commerce ranks Maryland first in innovation and entrepreneurship among the states. Where does Israel fit into this picture?
A. In biotech, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Israel’s largest pharmaceutical development company, collaborated with a University of Maryland scientist on developing Copaxone, the most frequently used medication for multiple sclerosis. We also have one of the longest-serving agencies—20 years—in the country dedicated to promoting economic development with Israel: the Maryland/Israel Development Center [a partnership of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor and The Associated Jewish Federation of Baltimore]. Just [last] summer, they helped bring one of Israel’s largest defense companies to the state, Elta Systems, bringing 100 new high-tech jobs to Maryland. We’re proud that Rafael and Elta, both companies involved in the development of the Iron Dome system that protected Israel’s cities during the Gaza conflict, have their U.S. headquarters in Maryland.
Q. You are committed to increasing Maryland’s usage of renewable energy. What should the United States be doing now to ensure energy independence?
A. In Maryland, we set goals to increase the state’s renewable energy generation by 20 percent. We’re strengthening our solar- and wind-generation capacity, supporting over 3,200 residential installations and 17 installations in state-owned buildings. We’re also exploring offshore wind energy production…from our Atlantic beaches. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. is on its way to becoming energy independent and even an energy exporter, with new shale technologies. While the new sources of energy are great for our country in the short term, the critical long-term issue—which affects our national security, our economy, our environment, our health and so much more—is sustainability. And that means weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. There are a lot of renewable energy options to explore including wind and solar. But we also need to be smarter with the fossil fuels we do use by developing a viable electric car, for instance, expanding LEED-certified buildings, smart grid technologies, recycling and so much more. And we’re better off starting now while we have the luxury of time rather than after a crisis like the closing of the Persian Gulf in a military conflict or the shrinking of the supply of fossil fuels….
Q. At the Democratic convention, many delegates voice voted against recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in an amended platform. What happened?
A. That vote was wrong, and I don’t expect it to come up like that at a future Democratic convention. Jerusalem is and must remain the capital of Israel.
The two-state solution is the only answer to the Arab-Israeli conflict, negotiated directly by Israelis and Palestinians. The sooner both parties get back to direct talks the better.
Q. President Obama won a new term with overwhelming Jewish support and Israel continues to enjoy bipartisan support in Congress. But surveys show that nationwide there is somewhat less sympathy for Israel among Democrats than before. How does the party address this?
A. Israel is a strategic ally of the United States. Not only do we share political, military, economic and technological interests, we share deeper common values, such as respect for the dignity of every individual, democratic pluralism, freedom of religion and private enterprise. It is these values that bind America and Israel together. But, like in every family, there will be disagreements. As we pursue our national interests, it is incumbent on us to remember and emphasize these shared values as the foundation of our relationship. As long as we do, Democratic and Republican support for Israel will remain strong.
Q. Can we look ahead to 2016 and what kind of candidate the Democratic Party must put forward if it hopes to keep the White House?
A. Energy and sustainability are key challenges for the future, with tremendous ramifications. Water shortages and poor water quality, for instance, affect much of the world’s population, especially children. A sustainable energy source can bring clean water, better sanitation, enhanced nutrition and better health to much of the world. And the development of those new technologies is going to take place here, and in Israel, and will create new companies and new jobs. But if America doesn’t address this, it will find its way to our shores. Conflicts will increase, affecting our national security; vast migrations of desperate people will ensue, creating a humanitarian crisis….
Global warming, of course, is a related challenge. We can’t deny that the number of catastrophic weather events has increased dramatically over the past couple of decades. If we don’t address this—again with new technology and smart policies—we are going to face natural disaster after natural disaster, stretching our resources to the breaking point.
Finally, an issue dear to my heart: education. It boils down to this: If we don’t educate our kids, the rest of the world will overtake us. We’ve addressed that head on in Maryland and our schools have been rated the best in the country four years in a row. We need to do that for the entire country.
Q. Do you have any vivid memories from any of your earlier trips to Israel?
A. I was mayor of Baltimore on a homeland security mission shortly after 9/11, and again in 2008 during my first term as governor to leverage our amazing assets in the biomedical sciences and health care with the National Institutes of Health, the Federal Drug Administration, Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland. I spoke at the Israel Biomed Conference and had a delegation of biomedical business and scientific leaders with me.
The strongest memory I have from my first visit was the striking contrast between the ancient and the new, not only in religion but with innovation. In the Old City of Jerusalem, for example, I was amazed to see religious leaders from every denomination talking on cell phones as they walked past the city’s ancient defensive systems and water cisterns. And, as a devout Catholic, it was quite emotional for me to walk the Stations of the Cross and see holy sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians within walking distance of each other.