A new home in Annapolis

Family: Kendel Ehrlich prepares for the move to Government House, with plans for a new bathtub, painting and maybe something plastic for the lawn.

January 11, 2003|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Before even reaching the front door of 4 Ballyhean Court, the Mays Chapel townhouse with the cream-colored brick and blue trim, a visitor is greeted by a plastic tricycle, a miniature John Deere tractor, an excavator and a Tonka scoop.

It looks like a million other suburban Maryland residences that happen to house a 3 1/2 -year-old boy -- except for the two cars parked out front, engines running to keep the state troopers warm.

Inside, Kendel Ehrlich is five days shy of becoming Maryland's first lady. She has packing to do, calls to return, laundry to wash, the parachute strings of Spiderman and the Green Goblin to untangle for her son, Drew.

Although she knows a photo- grapher is coming over, she hasn't changed out of her gray sweat pants or fussed with her hair. She just hasn't had time.

She believes this very scene -- the slightly harassed mother, the hastily prepared peanut butter (and chips) sandwich eaten off a child's paper plate, the explosion of toys on the floor of the living room -- is partly why her husband, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., was elected governor.

"People were looking forward to having a couple they could identify with," she said yesterday. "We're like everybody else who's juggling career and family, hauling stuff in from the car, trying to figure out what to have for dinner."

Not for long, though. Once they move into Government House in Annapolis next month, Kendel Ehrlich, 41, won't have to cook or go grocery shopping -- gubernatorial perks which please her mightily.

The couple will spend their first night in the mansion Tuesday, simply to make sure they don't get caught in traffic Wednesday morning and end up late for the inauguration.

Meanwhile, in Annapolis yesterday a truck emblazoned with the cartoon frog logo of Short Hop Moving Inc. pulled up outside Government House about 8 a.m. and began loading the possessions of Gov. Parris N. Glendening and his wife, Jennifer Crawford.

Glendening has lived there since taking office in 1995. Crawford moved in after they married, about a year ago. Movers spent much of the day loading personal items, including a potted plant, a king-size mattress and the crib of their baby daughter, Gabrielle. The family is moving to an Annapolis townhouse.

Kendel Ehrlich hasn't talked to any former first ladies about her impending role. In any case, the position has been somewhat fraught with peril in recent history.

Glendening divorced the former first lady, Frances Hughes, and Crawford has stayed almost entirely out of public view.

Hilda Mae Snoops, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's companion, died in 1999 of emphysema.

Gov. Marvin Mandel left his wife, Barbara, for another woman in 1973. For six months, Mrs. Mandel, known as Bootsie, stayed in the governor's mansion, sometimes entertaining there.

Although she hasn't had any first-lady lessons, there is no question Mrs. Ehrlich knows the basics. She has been a political spouse since 1993, when her husband was a state delegate. The next year, he was elected to Congress.

A lawyer, she particularly remembers the orientation for congressional spouses, when the woman running the session said to the group, "If you don't have to work, don't."

"I was one of the only non-child, career people in the room at the time," she said. "Spouses were irrelevant. It was difficult to find your place."

A fully public life

She's sure of it now. Mrs. Ehrlich, a forceful, straightforward and gregarious woman, has definite ideas about what she wants to do as first lady, and no qualms about her sudden entry into a fully public life.

"It's really weird to have people with you all the time," she said of the security detail that follows all three Ehrlichs everywhere they go. "And yeah, people take more notice of what you wear and what you're doing. But I have pretty good thick skin about that, generally speaking."

She will make use of the bully pulpit her position provides to serve as an advocate for public education and criminal justice reform. Her experience as a Harford County prosecutor and Anne Arundel County public defender has made her especially interested in drug treatment, she said. And after losing a brother to colon cancer, Mrs. Ehrlich is also committed to helping advance hospice care any way she can.

She will do it all within the framework of her husband's policy agenda. As part of his faith-based initiative, for instance, she would support churches helping people obtain treatment for their addictions.

Mrs. Ehrlich is technically on leave from a part-time position negotiating contracts for Comcast Cable Communications. Although she does not plan to hold a job while serving as first lady, she wants to finish one last project for Comcast, training teachers on using computer technology in their classrooms, she said.

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