5 festive days to celebrate Ehrlich's swearing-in

Parade, galas scheduled as GOP marks its return

January 11, 2003|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Maryland Republicans are getting ready to party like they're back in power after 36 years.

Beginning today, Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and thousands of his supporters will join for a five-day celebration that will be capped by his inauguration as Maryland's 60th governor on Wednesday and two gala balls that night.

"This is the first time in most people's lifetimes that they have been able to celebrate," said Richard E. Hug, a veteran GOP fund-raiser who was Ehrlich's campaign finance chairman. "We want to thank them for their efforts."

But Republicans aren't the only ones who will be festive. Plenty of Democrats plan to join the $1 million shindig as well.

"Obviously, it is a time for celebration," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who plans to attend a gala. "Governor Ehrlich should celebrate, and Democrats and Republicans alike should join in the festivities."

The events start this morning when Ehrlich and Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele attend a mock swearing-in before 350 children who will gather at Howard Community College in Columbia.

The inaugural ceremonies continue tomorrow when -- in recognition of Steele, a Catholic -- the two men attend Mass at Steele's church, St. Mary's in Landover Hills, Prince George's County.

Later in the day, Ehrlich returns to the neighborhood where he grew up for a hero's parade down East Drive in Arbutus.

Ehrlich and Steele will join several marching bands -- including the Ravens Marching Band -- and fire departments on the mile-long parade route, which ends at Leon's Restaurant. "That is going to be a fun one -- it's Arbutus," said Pat Miller, a member of Ehrlich's inaugural committee.

Monday night, several hundred people are expected at an "Inaugural Jam" to be held at Hammerjack's nightclub in Baltimore. Tickets are $20.

The next morning, Ehrlich and Steele will attend a prayer breakfast at Bowie State University. Ehrlich's favorite band, The Spinners, will headline an inaugural concert that evening at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"It's a lot of major events tied together," Ehrlich said of the five-day affair.

The main event is Wednesday, when Ehrlich will be sworn in as governor at noon in the Senate chamber of the State House. Only the governor-elect's family members and 300 friends will be able to watch the official ceremony, but Ehrlich plans to repeat it a short time later on the steps of the Capitol.

The new governor will then address what his advisers believe could be a record crowd gathered on Lawyers Mall.

Several of Ehrlich's former colleagues in Congress are expected to attend. Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp is scheduled to speak, as are some Democratic officials. Marc Steiner, host of The Marc Steiner Show on WYPR-FM, will be master of ceremonies.

The finale of the five-day celebration will be Wednesday night, when up to 6,000 people are expected to attend the two galas.

Initially, only one ball at the Baltimore Convention Center had been scheduled, but that $100-per-ticket event sold out in a week. Ehrlich advisers scrambled to organize a second ball at Camden Yards.

Longtime Ehrlich supporters said they will savor the inaugural balls because they will signal a new era in state government.

"This is a very big deal," said John Wolf, managing director of Ober, Kaler, Grimes and Shriver in Baltimore, the law firm where Ehrlich worked for 12 years before being elected to Congress. "There were a lot of people who said this couldn't be done, that a young moderate, conservative Republican would be elected in this state."

Del. Kenneth D. Schisler, an Eastern Shore Republican, said the inauguration has been the talk of his household for several weeks.

"I'm going to the gala with my wife. She wouldn't let me miss it," Schisler said. "She was showing me the dress the other night, and she made baby-sitter plans weeks in advance. This is going to be our opportunity to show our pride in what we [Republicans] have accomplished."

It will be the first such GOP celebration in Annapolis since Spiro T. Agnew was elected governor in 1966. At Agnew's inauguration, state dignitaries wore morning coats and top hats.

Since then, inaugural celebrations have been less grand than the party the Republicans are throwing this year.

In 1987, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's celebration consisted of a 10-minute speech and a few patriotic songs. Four years later, Schaefer spent just $30,000 on his inauguration, which did not include a ball.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening revived the inaugural ball in 1995. Four years later, Glendening spent $865,000 on his inaugural.

Hug said Ehrlich's celebration will likely top $1 million. About half the expenses will be paid out of proceeds from gala ticket sales. Corporate sponsors are financing most of the rest of the inaugural expenses.

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