Ehrlich, supporters whoop it up

Thousands flock to inaugural galas

toast governor, `change'

January 16, 2003|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Maryland Republicans finally got to party.

Denied control of the state's highest political office since 1966, GOP friends and supporters dug out their black-tie finery, from shimmering black tuxedos to cleavage-baring gowns, and whooped it up in a most refined way last night at simultaneous galas at Camden Yards and the Baltimore Convention Center.

The 36 years of pent-up energy probably explained why tickets to the original $100-a-ticket gala last night at the Convention Center were such a hot commodity. The inaugural committee of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had to stage a second gala at Camden Yards after inaugural organizers sold more than 4,000 tickets in a week to the first event, leaving hundreds of supporters desperate for a chance to join in the inaugural festivities.

Those who managed to schmooze at both events might have experienced deja vu. With the exception of the location, the food and decorations were nearly identical at each. The partygoers paid $100 apiece to eat carved turkey, crab cakes, roast beef and mashed potatoes (plopped into martini glasses) and pasta in ballrooms decorated in what organizers described as "a Maryland theme." That meant plenty of red, black and gold decorations echoing the state flag.

At Camden Yards, the party was so jammed that it became almost impossible to pass through the crowd. Some of the more than 2,000 people there formed human chains to push their way toward tables of food and drink.

Both Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele made brief comments, joking and telling celebrants to have a good time.

"This is one of those magical days of life," Ehrlich said as he took to a stage at the stadium party. The governor had arrived at the stadium about 8:15 p.m., making his way through posh surroundings and exchanging slaps of the hand and hugs with the crowd.

Ehrlich - the state's first Republican governor since Spiro T. Agnew - also talked about how tired he was.

"Tomorrow, Michael Steele will assume control of government and Kendel and I will take a break. Just kidding," Ehrlich said to laughter and applause.

The Camden Yards festivities began with a V.I.P. party that included hundreds of Annapolis lobbyists, political supporters and top corporate donors, many of whom were designated "Star-Spangled Banner" sponsors for their $20,000 donations toward the inaugural party bill.

"The Democrats don't know how to be in opposition, and the Republicans don't know how to be in charge," observed former Del. Michael W. Burns, an Anne Arundel County Republican who was sporting a Spiro Agnew watch.

In an ebullient mood, Ehrlich spoke about 8:45, pausing to compliment his wife, Kendel, on her striking red dress as she entered the room and noting that she was wearing "some serious jewelry."

"I have to have it home by midnight," the first lady replied to laughter.

At the Convention Center, the main ballroom was decked out with huge wide-screen televisions that beamed photos of Steele and Ehrlich on the campaign trail. Streamers hung from ceiling to floor. Food and drink stations were everywhere.

They hadn't partied the Republican way since Agnew was elected governor 36 years ago. Even so, it took both of last night's simultaneous celebrations to match Agnew's celebratory ball.

Attended by 5,000 people, the 1967 gala was held in Baltimore's 5th Regiment Armory, where the stark interior was transformed with gold and white decor, 20 three-tiered crystal chandeliers, palm trees, plush red carpet and a false ceiling to improve sound quality. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra played Viennese waltzes and selections from My Fair Lady.

"This is fun. This about a new administration, a new spirit," said former Baltimore state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV. "There is electricity in the air. This is about change."

"I was here in 1994 when Glendening won," he added. "It wasn't like this."

Democrats and liberals, including supporters of former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who lost to Ehrlich in the November election, showed up for the shindigs.

"This is a big mixer of all the power in the state," said Dan Clements, chairman of Planned Parenthood, as light rock music blared in the background. "You want to be involved with the rest of the people ... whether they are Democrats or Republicans."

And some, like Republican farmer and GOP donor Charles Stoecker, simply paused to relish the scene.

"It's nice to win one," said the White Hall resident. "It's seriously nice."

Sun staff writers Tim Craig, Michael Dresser, Sarah Koenig and David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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