Ehrlich, DePazzo make odd pals Older Democrat, GOP congressman back each other

June 09, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Can a handsome, smooth-talking young Republican congressman find true friendship with a rough-edged, bombastic Democratic councilman 25 years his senior?

Rep. Robert L. "Bobby" Ehrlich Jr., 38, has found just that -- and more -- with Louis L. DePazzo, 63, who represents Dundalk on the Baltimore County Council.

"He has a magic about him," DePazzo says of Ehrlich.

"You can't help but like him," Ehrlich says of DePazzo. "He taught me how to be a legislator."

And as the freshman congressman faces a re-election fight from a well-financed former Dundalk delegate, support from the popular DePazzo could be crucial.

Ehrlich's opponent, Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis, discounts the impact of the relationship. DePazzo's efforts on her home turf "will have very little impact," she says.

Others disagree. They say the friendship is based on cold, political calculation. Support from the eastside's conservative Democrats is important for 2nd District Republican candidates, who draw strength from GOP strongholds in Harford and northern Baltimore County, but need crossover Democrats to win, they say.

"Lou's support is very important. He gets to the [blue collar] voters that Ehrlich has least contact with," says Del. John S. Arnick, a veteran Dundalk politician who backed Ehrlich in 1994 but claims neutrality this time.

Whatever their motives, Ehrlich and DePazzo have a strong relationship that marks them as a political odd couple.

Ehrlich says he wants to be known for his ideas -- not for his personality.

The gray-haired, sallow-faced DePazzo may share that ambition, but he has no hope of achieving it.

An emotional man sensitive to personal slights, he's famous for whipping crowds into a frenzy by lambasting bureaucrats, reporters and fellow politicians.

For example, in DePazzo's 1994 attacks on a federal program designed to move poor inner-city families to safer suburbs, he compared the effort to Fidel Castro's emptying of Cuban prisons and mental hospitals during the Mariel exodus to the United States. Some families, he said, "would need to be taught to take baths and not to steal."

In Ehrlich, DePazzo sees someone achieving what he might have -- with a different personality.

"I envy that [calmness]. What I could have been, would have been, might have been," DePazzo says, wistfully.

The two found each other at the 1987 General Assembly, where both served on the House Judiciary Committee.

Ehrlich was a rookie. DePazzo, a two-term veteran and a maverick Democrat, saw something special in the young, smart lawyer who wasn't afraid to go nose-to-nose in emotional debates.

"We would start battling over legal issues, crime issues, and Lou would lose his temper. We began a friendship out of mutual respect -- as opponents," Ehrlich recalls.

"You could break both his kneecaps, and he would not yield on what he believes," DePazzo says, adding that he values such passion and honesty.

Other legislators say service on Judiciary is often a bonding experience, because of the intense, emotional issues considered amid scrutiny from House leaders, the governor and the press.

That first year, for example, DePazzo and Ehrlich were in the majority on an 11-10 vote that killed one of then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer's bills -- a measure intended to reform medical malpractice awards that were driving obstetricians out of business.

"It gave Lou an opportunity to see who was strong enough to resist the governor. It was one of those defining moments," says Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democrat.

As some freshmen began spending time together, DePazzo often joined the group.

"He called us the Sears boys," Montague recalls, laughing. "I think it was the way we dressed."

Later, the friendship included family get-togethers, including crabbing on one of DePazzo's boats.

In 1992, Ehrlich aided DePazzo's campaign for a seat on the county's Circuit Court bench, something he didn't have to do -- especially since attempts to unseat judges are considered a form of professional heresy.

"When Lou ran for judge, Bob supported him, up front and hard," says fellow councilman and former Del. Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat.

Ehrlich says he did it out of friendship and because he believed that DePazzo is very bright and would have changed his temperament to match judicial robes. The Dundalk lawyer was a magistrate in the 1960s, before the District Court system began.

But former Towson Del. Gerry L. Brewster, a Democrat who lost the congressional seat to Ehrlich in 1994, disagrees.

"When Bobby arrived [in Annapolis], he knew he wanted to run for Congress. He knew Lou DePazzo was somebody who could help him. He was on a very calculated mission," says Brewster, DTC now a teacher at Chesapeake High School.

The bond between the two men "started as opportunistic and developed into a genuine friendship," Brewster says.

Working for Republicans such as Ehrlich and former County Executive Roger B. Hayden cost DePazzo after the 1994 elections, when he was expelled from one Dundalk Democratic club and suspended from another. Still, he has vowed never to do anything to hurt Ehrlich.

"Lou sees Bobby as the vehicle for a future political role," says Brewster, who shared Ehrlich's Gilman and Princeton education, but not his humble Arbutus beginnings. The political benefits of the alliance aren't accidental, he adds.

"Lou DePazzo personally told me that he and Bobby cut a deal. Bobby would support him for the judgeship, and Lou would support him for Congress."

DePazzo and Ehrlich deny such an agreement.

Noting that in 1992 Republican Helen Delich Bentley held the 2nd District seat and was not expected to leave, Ehrlich says, "That is an absolute lie. Unbelievable."

DePazzo also strongly denies Brewster's charge -- using the same words.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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