During his first go-round on stage, Martin O’Malley seemed to forget he was standing in one of America’s largest cities and a prideful one at that. Outside of the boilerplate “birthplace of Democracy” line, he barely mentioned Philadelphia or cities in a stump speech that lasted several minutes Thursday night at Point Breeze’s American Sardine Bar.

He remembered it when he took the stage a second time, to sing and play guitar with the Irish band The Hooligans (yep, O’Malley rocked out for about 15 minutes). Before launching into his first song, he explained to the crowd he didn’t talk about cities before and needed bring them up this time:  

“We have not had an agenda for America’s cities,” he said, before launching into a rendition of The Pogues’ “The Body of an American.”

The remark provided a plan of action that fit the message he emphasized to the supporters who donated at least $25 to see him at the happy hour: That he’s the only presidential candidate who understands cities thanks to his 15 years as an executive leader.

Though his track record — especially as it pertains to relations between police and minority communities — has been scrutinized, it does include eight years as Maryland’s governor and seven years as mayor of Baltimore, as well as two terms on Baltimore’s City Council. He’s also the basis for mayor Tommy Carcetti on David Simon’s “The Wire.” 

In fact, as Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall pointed out, the song O’Malley sang last night — “The Body of an American” — was featured on “The Wire” multiple times. It was sung by police officers at wakes.

O’Malley’s ideas for improving Philadelphia and similar cities, as he shared in an interview after his public appearance, centered on increased funding from the federal government.

“A lot of American cities including Philadelphia are doing better but it’s not because of the federal government,” he said.

One of the biggest investments O’Malley said he would like to make for cities would be affordable workforce housing. Workforce housing basically ensures affordable housing options will be available close to where people work. Research has shown that between 2000 and 2012, the percentage change in the number of jobs near the average resident in Philadelphia has dropped 10 percent, about six percent worse than the U.S. average.  

He said a plan for affordable workforce housing would mean, ideally, neighborhoods could feature a diverse group of residents in terms of race and income.   

“Part of what makes cities vibrant and makes them strong are the fact that they are able to accommodate and give a quality of life to a lot of people,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley certainly knows his biggest challenge now isn’t to perfect that message so much as it is to make sure people are hearing it. He’s sitting at 3 percent in the Democratic polls and needs more followers.

A crowd of around 100 people came to watch him Thursday night. And they were a mixed bunch. An informal poll of several attendees revealed a couple who were friends of O’Malley’s family or friends of workers for O’Malley.  

John Peruso said he came because he lives a couple blocks away, got curious about the idea of seeing a presidential candidate in person and figured he would “hear him out.” He does usually vote Democratic but before Thursday night hadn’t given much thought to O’Malley.

Lisa Totin came to American Sardine Bar from South Jersey. She had previously lived in Baltimore and said she thinks he’ll be good for education.

For John Longacre, the owner of American Sardine Bar, the choice was obvious.  

“As an urban dweller,” Longacre said, “he’s our candidate.”

O’Malley also addressed what’s bound to be the elephant in the room in whichever room he enters. How does a guy with little name recognition and 3 percent of Democratic support stay in the race?   

“Maybe it’s an Irish thing, but I kind of like tough odds,” he said. “I like tough fights.”

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...