IT'S BAD ENOUGH that Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. tried to influence the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of Sinclair Broadcast Group, then cursed the "culture of corruption" in Annapolis during his gubernatorial campaign, even as he stepped on and off a helicopter owned by a Sinclair official.
It's worse that the Ehrlich campaign initially skirted the law by failing to report the chopper rides as in-kind contributions, and has subsequently offered one lame explanation after another for the oversight.
But what's really disturbing about the entire dust-up is the reaction of Mr. Ehrlich himself. He hasn't said he made a mistake. He hasn't acknowledged the relationship was inappropriate. Instead, through his spokesman, he has essentially described this as business as usual, as something politicians do all the time.
And that's a real problem. It suggests Mr. Ehrlich's railings against corruption in Annapolis were part of a calculated political scheme rather than a sincere desire to bring change to the capital. Coupled with the new governor's insistence on political loyalty to shady characters such as lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano and ethically challenged legislators such as Clarence M. Mitchell IV, the Sinclair relationship points to an unfortunate pattern of poor judgment.
It is imperative that the governor-elect have a concrete system of values by which he makes his decisions before he arrives in Annapolis, because there will be no shortage of opportunities for unsavory relationships when he gets there. Special interests will come to him daily offering gifts in exchange for the benefit of his influence; helicopter rides might be the least of it. Without a clear sense of right and wrong to guide him, the capital will be a maze of quid pro quos and barely legal transactions for the new governor.
Mr. Ehrlich also ought to get out in front of the Sinclair story before it spins further out of control. Disclose all the details of the relationship -- and any similar ones with other interests -- before they leak out in dribs and drabs. Doing so is not just about improving his standing on the public relations front, it also would send an important message to Annapolis interests that might be anticipating their own mutual back-scratching relationships with Mr. Ehrlich.
The new governor must show that he's not just playing the part of a white-hatted politician -- but that he really intends to be one over the next four years.