The GOP's rising star eyes a State House run

The Political Game

Ambition: Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. weighs his chances against Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002.

May 23, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

U.S. REP. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is facing the kind of decision that could make or break his career: Should he run for governor in 2002?

The question has been out there for a year and a half, since Gov. Parris N. Glendening won a second term in 1998 and Ehrlich emerged overnight as perhaps the only Republican in Maryland capable of mounting a strong run for the State House in 2002.

Clearly, Ehrlich hasn't made a decision.

Ehrlich would have to give up a seat in Congress to make the run for governor, a race that he would begin as an underdog.

The upside, though, is pretty spectacular: "Beating a Kennedy, in Maryland " Ehrlich says, his voice trailing off.

The Kennedy is Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who Ehrlich is confident will be the Democratic nominee in 2002.

As he weighs his options, Ehrlich is starting to play more of a role in Maryland affairs.

He worked with his Republican colleagues in the legislature on an agenda for the last General Assembly session.

He also invited himself to a meeting at the governor's mansion this month at which Democratic elected officials, including Glendening, met with General Motors Corp. officials about maintaining the company's operations in Baltimore.

(Ehrlich would have been invited officially if he had played more of a role in the GM issue earlier, a Glendening aide noted dryly.)

Now Ehrlich is making some pointed comments about the state's Democratic leaders.

Speaking as the guest of honor at an Annapolis breakfast fund-raiser for the Republican legislative caucus Friday, Ehrlich accused Glendening and other Democrats of playing "a game of petty politics and revenge" against Republicans.

Democratic leaders in Maryland, he said, survive by dividing the voters.

"They divide by race, by class, by sex," Ehrlich said. "And you know what? It works."

Ehrlich also accused Glendening of using the power of government -- "executive orders, Sunny Day Fund grants and pork" -- to reward political friends.

"Parris will play this game for the next two years, and then we'll have a choice," Ehrlich concluded. "We can do better."

Ehrlich knows well the obstacles a Republican would face against Townsend or any other prominent Democratic candidate.

At Friday's breakfast, for example, the Republican legislators had to work hard to raise $8,000, an unimpressive take for an event featuring the party's No. 1 rising star.

The same morning, Townsend was in the State House pulling on the same levers of power that Ehrlich was describing, presiding over a meeting of the innocuous-sounding After-School Opportunity Fund Program Advisory Board.

As chairwoman of that board, Townsend plays a crucial role in deciding which Maryland groups receive part of the $10 million in grants approved by the General Assembly last year.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of community groups could get pieces of that pie. And rest assured: The letter announcing the grant will be signed by your lieutenant governor.

It's the kind of political perk a Maryland Republican such as Ehrlich can only dream about.

An active Rawlings avoids the olive branch

While Ehrlich is figuring out his next move, Del. Howard P. Rawlings is running hard -- for something.

Last week, he shelled out $6,000 from his campaign account to buy an ad in The Sun declaring that he and former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke want Glendening to support a moratorium on executions in the state.

About the same time, Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, sent a 12-page, full-color mailing to people in his district outlining his achievements during this year's legislative session.

The brochure lobs another volley at other blacks in the Maryland Senate with whom Rawlings feuded.

Rawlings notes that his legislation to crack down on racial profiling by police when making traffic stops "failed in the Senate due to the efforts of Senators Mitchell and McFadden from Baltimore City."

So much for burying the hatchet.

O'Malley speaks out against death penalty

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who won election last year on an anti-crime platform, surprised a few people last week when he, too, came out in favor of a death-penalty moratorium, adding that he opposes capital punishment in all cases.

"I don't think the death penalty solves a single homicide, nor have I ever known it to bring anybody back to life," said O'Malley, a former prosecutor and public defender.

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