GOP's Ehrlich hires key Democratic aide Schurick to become political director for 2nd District lawmaker

October 27, 1997|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

An unlikely pair will be appearing on the state's political stage soon.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican from Maryland's 2nd District, has signed up a new political director -- Paul E. Schurick, a Democratic operative whose name is virtually synonymous with that of his former boss, William Donald Schaefer.

Schurick, 41, who had worked for Schaefer since Schaefer was mayor of Baltimore, first as a bureaucrat in the city's job training program and later as Governor Schaefer's chief of staff, will start with Ehrlich's campaign organization Dec. 1.

"When you look at the experience, skills, philosophy and personality, it's a fit that I'm comfortable with," Ehrlich said. "We are very, very pleased with it."

Schurick, too, feels that it's a good match.

"I believe I bring him pretty broad and lengthy experience with many of the issues that confront him in his district and those he confronts daily in Washington," he said.

Schurick's hiring is the clearest signal yet that Ehrlich is aggressively pursuing a statewide office in the long term -- probably a U.S. Senate seat in 2000.

The addition of Schurick creates the potential for luring more Democratic support -- grass-roots and financial -- to the Ehrlich camp as the congressman expands his base beyond the district boundaries in Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties.

But while many in the state GOP believe the move is a strategically good one for Ehrlich and the party, the news rankled some in the Republican rank and file.

"I was surprised. Political operatives don't usually go both ways," said Carol L. Hirschburg, a GOP political consultant.

"I guess Paul's RC-DC," Hirschburg said, explaining that she was referring to Republican candidates and Democratic candidates.

David R. Blumberg, chairman of the Baltimore GOP, said he expected the reaction to be mixed.

"Practically speaking, it's a very good appointment," Blumberg said. "Politically, Bob probably will have some explaining to do in the party -- if he chooses to.

"But he doesn't really need to, since the last time I checked, Bob Ehrlich hadn't lost an election," he said. "His track record has been one of victory after victory. So I'm certainly not going to second-guess this kind of appointment."

Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party, said she sees such moves as inevitable if the GOP is to be in a position to flex its muscle in a state where Democratic voters still outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1.

"If we're going to learn and win, you just can't put blinders on anymore," Terhes said. "I can understand that Bobby wants to broaden the circle around him. That's the mark of an astute politician."

Schaefer, who blessed the Schurick-Ehrlich marriage before it was consummated, said he has heard squawks among some Democrats.

"Someone said to me, 'How could Paul do this?' and I told them, 'I think he's making a wise move. I think Ehrlich is an excellent congressman,' " Schaefer said.

"I never worried about parties, as you know," Schaefer added, a reference to his endorsement of President George Bush over Bill Clinton in 1992, and his support of former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley in her unsuccessful 1994 bid to be the GOP gubernatorial nominee.

In the past year, Schurick has been political director for House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., the Western Maryland Democrat who this year aborted plans for a 1998 primary challenge to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

In the past few months, Schurick had been casting around for another political job and entertained a handful of offers, he and others said. He and Ehrlich talked about the possibility of working together since the summer, though the position has been vacant for nearly a year, since Robert L. McKinney became president of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce.

Politics is all about relationships, and as Schaefer's chief of staff, Schurick developed many of them across the state and in Washington.

As Ehrlich's political director, Schurick will be his No. 1 contact with elected officials and operatives on issues political and nonpolitical. He will serve in the congressman's inner circle as adviser and campaign strategist, use his contacts to corral bipartisan support and even try to lure some of the traditionally Democratic money Ehrlich's way.

Meanwhile, Schurick said he also plans to keep his $26,300-a-year part-time job as a judge on the Maryland Tax Court -- a gift from Schaefer in the final days of his administration -- where he hears taxpayer appeals of state property assessments.

Schurick is a native of upstate New York who resides in Crownsville in Anne Arundel County with his wife, Cindy, and 8-year-old daughter. He started with Schaefer right out of college.

He came to Baltimore from West Virginia University in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's in labor economics to work for Marion W. Pines, then the city's job training czar, in the mayor's Office of Manpower Resources.

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