Liquor board picks anger city senators

Ehrlich likely to reappoint head of panel, oust Welch

April 30, 2003|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Ignoring longstanding political custom and riling some Baltimore City senators, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has apparently decided to reappoint the chairman of the city liquor board, but toss out a longtime politically connected member of the same panel.

In a series of phone calls made late last week, aides to Ehrlich informed city legislators and the appointees that Leonard R. Skolnik would be reappointed as chairman of the liquor board, while William A. "Pete" Welch would not return.

Replacing Welch will be Mark Fosler, a veteran investigator and neighborhood relations specialist for the city's Community Relations Commission. Ehrlich has decided to reappoint the third member, Claudia L. Brown.

In a brief interview, Fosler said that he expects that his experience dealing with neighborhood groups across the city would be a help in working on the liquor board.

Some city senators had been lobbying for Welch, the son of City Council member Agnes Welch, not only to be reappointed, but to get the designation as chairman. William Welch declined to comment.

City election records show that Skolnik, a longtime Democrat with close ties to former state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, recently switched his party affiliation to Republican. Skolnik could not be reached for comment. Following her defeat in last fall's Democratic primary, Hoffman served as an informal adviser to Ehrlich.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell would not comment on the selections yesterday, saying a formal announcement has not been made.

The three-member city liquor board issues and renews licenses and regulates hundreds of licensed establishments within the city borders. It oversees an inspection staff and can issue fines and revoke licenses.

Ehrlich's action, which comes after the General Assembly has adjourned for the year, brought protests from some city senators who have by tradition -- if not statute -- controlled liquor board appointments.

"It's a lot of politics," said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Democrat who backed Welch. "I would hope he [Ehrlich] would reconsider it."

Barring a reversal, Conway promised Ehrlich's selections will come under scrutiny when the legislature reconvenes next year.

Sen. George W. Della Jr. said his recommendation for another appointee was ignored.

"It was overlooked because evidently I didn't vote the right way," said Della, a Democrat, referring to his opposition to legislation legalizing slot machines and his vote against Ehrlich's initial nomination for state environmental secretary, Lynn Y. Buhl.

Freshman Sen. Lisa A. Gladden termed the appointments "an insult to the senators from Baltimore."

"If this is supposed to be a collaborative effort, then this doesn't make it," said the city Democrat.

But other longtime city senators acknowledged that a Republican governor was likely to make changes in a heavily Democratic jurisdiction.

"That's the problem when you lose," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, referring to Ehrlich's victory over former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. "We haven't had glitches like this before. In the past it was a done deal."

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat whose district no longer includes Baltimore City, said she was consulted by Ehrlich aides about the reappointment of Brown, whom she supported.

Kelley said she was consulted because of her position as vice chairwoman of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. The senator also voted for the Buhl nomination, but not Ehrlich's slot proposal.

Unlike most other annual gubernatorial appointments, the liquor board nominees were not announced in February because there was disagreement among city senators over who should get the jobs, aides to the governor said at the time.

Members of the city delegation said they also were informed last week that Marvin L. Cheatham was being ousted from the city Board of Elections. Taking his place will be Steven Medura, 48, a longtime alternate on the board who said he also was a former chairman.

Lionel Murphy, head of a local contracting firm who had the support of McFadden, was selected to fill the alternate slot on the city election board.

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