While attention swirls around whether former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley will run for president, another member of his family — his 87-year-old mother — has been building an extraordinary political career of her own on Capitol Hill.
In 1987, Barbara O'Malley joined the staff of then-freshman Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland as a receptionist. Today she is answering Mikulski's telephones and "keeping the Senate's other inhabitants in line," The Wall Street Journal
She doesn't take guff from anyone, according to Washington power players who've been on the receiving end of her get-back-to-work instructions.
"She's so funny — and she's tough," said retired Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who visited Mrs. O'Malley (known throughout Senate offices as "Mrs. O") every day when he was in Washington.
"When she thinks the conversation has gone on too long, she goes, 'Go to your office and do some work,'" said the West Virginia Democrat, who served 30 years in the Senate.
She has been described as the best-known 80-something on Capitol Hill to have never won an election.
"I will sometimes run into U.S. senators who I've never met before, but they already know who my mom is," said her son, who just ended his tenure as governor and has made numerous trips to Iowa as he mulls a possible presidential bid.
The median age of Senate staffers is 29, according to an analysis by LegiStorm
, which monitors congressional salaries.
Mrs. O'Malley’s 27 years — to date — on the job "are more than nine times the average experience of other Senate receptionists and staff assistants. She is almost certainly the only Senate receptionist to have six children, 21 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren," the Journal notes.
She has trained multiple generations of staffers — estimated at somewhere between 50 and 75 aides, many of whom are dispersed among the corridors of the Capitol and congressional office buildings, as well as the lobbying power centers of downtown Washington.
Chung Shek started his Capitol Hill career some 12 years ago, working alongside Mrs. O'Malley as a staff assistant to Mikulski. He later rose to become the office’s director of operations, a position that made him Mrs. O'Malley’s supervisor — at least on paper.
"But in my perspective, she was always my supervisor," said Shek, who today serves as chief clerk with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
"You don’t mess with Mrs. O," he said. "Beside Sen. Mikulski, Mrs. O is the one you always want to keep happy."
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