O'Malley, Ehrlich hold hour session at City Hall

They seek more emphasis on gun-case prosecution

April 04, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Two up-and-coming leaders of Maryland's Democratic and Republican parties came together yesterday in support of beleaguered Baltimore's never-ending quest for federal help.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., 2nd District Republican, who has emerged as the Bush administration's point man in Maryland, paid a lunchtime visit to Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, at City Hall. Over sandwiches in an hourlong meeting, they talked about gun prosecutions, drug treatment funding, job training money, faith-based initiatives, urban redevelopment, education and housing.

And what about the 2002 governor's race, for which both are rumored to be possible contenders?

"Governor's race," Ehrlich, 43, replied blankly.

"You mean, like, in Maryland?" said O'Malley, 38, joining Ehrlich's deadpan.

"We actually talked all about policy and not about politics," Ehrlich said.

The main topic was O'Malley's top priority as mayor - fighting violent crime in the city.

Ehrlich and O'Malley have called on federal authorities to prosecute more gun crimes in federal court, where offenders face longer prison sentences without the possibility of parole.

Yesterday, they jointly called for a doubling of gun cases under Maryland's next U.S. attorney, saying the effort should be modeled after a program in Richmond, Va., called Project Exile.

Federal prosecutors in Maryland are taking more cases than ever. Last year, 169 people were indicted on federal gun crimes in Baltimore - a 70 percent increase over the previous year. Chief U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said in his end-of-the-year report on the court that he and other judges are "becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of felon-in-possession cases."

But the two political leaders said yesterday that more can be done. They announced plans to raise money from city business leaders for a more aggressive ad campaign warning criminals about the penalties for gun crimes, a key element of Project Exile.

Baltimore businessman Louis J. Grasmick, who joined the men in their private meeting, said he expected to be able to raise about $250,000 for such advertising.

The motivation for the meeting was clear for O'Malley, who needs the help of a Republican administration and Republican Congress to buttress his attempted revival of a Democrat-dominated city.

Ehrlich was born in the city but does not represent it. His district includes some of the suburbs - Harford County and parts of Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

"The quality of life enjoyed by the people I represent is directly proportional to how successful [O'Malley] is in this city, and everybody knows it," the fourth-term congressman said.

A joint news conference was held in the ceremonial room in O'Malley's second-floor offices at City Hall. It's where the mayor traditionally receives dignitaries such as senators, congressmen and governors. Both have been mentioned as possible candidates in the gubernatorial race next year, and both have reasons to consider it.

Ehrlich faces the possibility, through redistricting, of being pushed into a difficult fight to hold on to his congressional seat. O'Malley is enjoying a wave of popularity, and even if he lost a bid for governor next year, he'd still have his job as mayor, since his term doesn't end until 2004.

But the only talk about higher office yesterday was in jest.

"Actually, we're talking about a ticket, but we're not sure who's going to head the ticket," Ehrlich said.

Sun staff writer Gail Gibson contributed to this article.

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