Ehrlich makes rounds, but no raise promises

THE POLITICAL GAME

Governor: Visits with state workers include talk of budget constraints.

February 18, 2003|By Tim Craig and Jeff Barker | Tim Craig and Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

State employees may not be getting a raise, but they are receiving a visit from the governor.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has been making the rounds to all the state agencies and plans to visit all of them by April 18 -- his 100th day in office.

Ehrlich visited three agencies Friday before slipping off to Camp David to visit with President Bush.

"I am just here today to say `Hello' and tell you I appreciate all your hard work," Ehrlich told about 100 employees at the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The jovial visit began with Secretary James D. Fielder Jr. presenting Ehrlich with a pair of red boxing gloves. Ehrlich drew a laugh when he said he would use the gloves on "the speaker," a reference to his differences with House Speaker Michael E. Busch over the governor's proposal to legalize slot machines.

Ehrlich then turned serious as he told the employees -- who have not had a raise in two years -- that the state simply could not afford to pay them more until the budget situation improves. "We're in this together," he said. "We will rise and fall together."

The governor also scolded his party for sometimes appearing to be against government and its workers.

"Some Republicans are associated with being anti-government," Ehrlich said. "It's funny to me. ... I've never been one to beat up government. You all make the state run."

For at least some of the employees, the pep talk served its purpose.

"Thank you. We've never had a governor visit us," Ellen Miller, a five-year Labor Department employee, told Ehrlich.

But Ehrlich received a slightly cooler reception when he visited the State Office Building on Preston Street. A small group of union activists gathered to protest the lack of a pay raise. Then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening had proposed a 2 percent increase next year during his final weeks in office, but Ehrlich rejected that as unaffordable.

Initially, the governor's security detail tried to keep him from the group, which had gathered near the cafeteria. Ehrlich eventually overruled the advice and met briefly with some of the protesters.

Ivy League's political hoops

It was Republican vs. Democrat last week when Princeton and Penn played an Ivy League basketball game in Philadelphia.

The Republican was Ehrlich, who traveled to the sold-out Palestra (the University of Pennsylvania's home court) Tuesday night to cheer on Princeton, his alma mater.

The Democrat was Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Penn grad who rarely misses such a big game.

The pair of newly elected governors, who were seated several rows apart, chatted at halftime.

"I give Bob a lot of credit for loyalty," said Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who attended the contest with Rendell. "He was clearly in enemy territory, but he stood up for his Princeton Tigers nevertheless. But I do think Rendell yelled a bit louder on behalf of Penn."

Luntz said the game split his basketball allegiances and political leanings. "For me, as a Penn grad, this is the first time that I actually rooted against a Republican and for a Democrat," he said.

Penn won, 65-55.

Her budget entreaty has a sweet undertone

Is a way to a budget secretary's heart through his stomach? Del. Maggie L. McIntosh thinks so.

McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, made an impassioned written plea Friday -- Valentine's Day -- to state budget secretary James C. "Chip" DiPaula. She implored him to restore money for Live Near Your Work, Neighborhood Conservation and Community Parks and Playgrounds, three programs that suffered hits in Ehrlich's budget.

"On this the day we celebrate our hearts, [I ask you] to advocate to Governor Ehrlich for the restoration of very small but vital programs that help us retain the heart of our communities," McIntosh wrote. To emphasize her point, the letter was delivered with a box of candy.

But with the House of Delegates looking to make even deeper cuts to the budget, McIntosh should remember that even a "chocolate Chip" is only semisweet.

House-warming ideas from Ehrlich

The stately Annapolis mansion that has housed Maryland governors for the past 125 years may be getting a name change.

Ehrlich says he is considering having a contest to rename the official residence.

"Government House sounds like a hotel," Ehrlich said Friday. "We want to make it more attractive and open it up."

Ehrlich said his wife, Kendel, has a particular dislike for the name. "Whatever she wants usually happens," Ehrlich joked.

The first couple plans to move into the house -- which has played host to Mark Twain, Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother and Sugar Ray Leonard -- tomorrow (weather permitting.)

After the move, Ehrlich said he wants to open the house to more Maryland residents. Among the considerations: holding days where residents of a particular county are invited to tour the mansion on a prearranged date.

Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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