Ehrlich would have Mandel review state government

If Republican is elected, ex-Democratic governor would focus on efficiency

October 31, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., running for governor against what he calls a "culture of corruption" in the Democratic administration, tapped yesterday a former governor who was at the center of one of Maryland's biggest political scandals to launch a "top-to-bottom" review of state government.

Former Democratic Gov. Marvin Mandel, acknowledged expert on government bureaucracy during his tenure from 1969 to 1977, would help Ehrlich find ways to shrink the government's size and make it more efficient, both men said yesterday.

Mandel said the state needs to return to "fiscal sanity" to erase the $1.7 billion budget shortfall and make government more accountable to taxpayers.

"This deficit, if allowed to continue, will go on for the next eight years, and it has to be changed, " Mandel said as he and Ehrlich ate breakfast in front of reporters at Chick & Ruth's Delly in Annapolis. "We have to bring the state back to fiscal stability and fiscal sanity."

As governor, Mandel consolidated 248 agencies into 12 Cabinet departments. As speaker of the House of Delegates in the early 1960s, Mandel worked to decrease the number of House committees from 15 to four.

In 1977, Mandel was convicted of mail fraud and racketeering charges, after he was accused of accepting $350,000 in gifts to influence legislation that would have benefited horse racing. He served nearly 19 months of a four-year sentence before President Ronald Reagan commuted his sentence in 1981. Six years later, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction.

Ehrlich, who is running against Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the lieutenant governor, called Mandel "the most successful governor in the history of modern Maryland" who brought the state "into the modern era."

Ehrlich's campaign also has embraced other Democrats who have run into ethics trouble.

The campaign has close ties to Bruce C. Bereano, an Annapolis lobbyist who was convicted of mail fraud in 1994. He routinely attends the candidate's campaign events, sometimes wearing an "Ehrlich for Governor" pin. Also active in Ehrlich's campaign is Democratic Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, who helped establish Democrats for Ehrlich, and was reprimanded by the ethics committee for accepting a $10,000 loan from a businessman who had issues before the General Assembly.

"I think Bob knows who he can take advantage of and who he can't, and he will take full advantage of them and turn a blind eye toward ethical issues," said David Paulson, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party.

Ehrlich bristled when asked if he is sending the wrong message by associating with Mandel, Mitchell and Bereano.

"The bottom line is I have been around for 16 years in Maryland politics," Ehrlich said. "I have a lot of friends on both sides of the aisle. I have tried to maintain my integrity and dignity and be straight up for 16 years. I have not run away from my friends when they got in trouble because that is just not part of my makeup."

Mandel stopped short of endorsing Ehrlich, saying Ehrlich "never asked" him to. But a reporter asked, "Governor, who are you going to vote for?"

Mandel replied, "Which governor are you talking to?"

Ehrlich said, "There is your answer."

Ehrlich said Mandel would head up a bipartisan commission that would recommend changes to the "structure" of state government, such as streamlining operations and services.

Also yesterday, Ehrlich and Republican legislators renewed calls for a special session after the election to come up with possible cuts to the state budget. Ehrlich said the session is needed because the deficit is estimated to be growing by $1.6 million a day.

"Since you got out of bed this morning, [Gov.] Parris Glendening and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend have cost you $800,000," Ehrlich said during the lunchtime event.

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Glendening, said the governor will meet with the governor-elect and legislators after the election to review the budget.

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