Governor asks O'Malley to name Schaefer to board

Ehrlich wants him to put 1 of mayor's biggest critics on city convention panel

October 24, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

As if the dispute swirling around the Baltimore convention and visitors bureau this year has not been a big enough headache for Mayor Martin O'Malley. Now Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is asking that O'Malley appoint one of the mayor's biggest and best-known critics - state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer - to serve on the bureau's governing board.

Ehrlich sent a letter to O'Malley this week requesting Schaefer's appointment to the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association's board of directors. The association's longtime executive director was ousted this year.

"This is calculated to embarrass O'Malley," said Matthew Crenson, a political scientist at the Johns Hopkins University. "It's a poke in the [mayor's] eye."

Many say it is the latest move in the political gamesmanship between Ehrlich, the Republican governor, and O'Malley, his possible Democratic gubernatorial challenger in 2006. The two have tangled this month over the governor's pick to head the city welfare office. O'Malley complained that he was not consulted on Ehrlich's choice of Floyd Blair to run the Baltimore City Department of Social Services.

"The mayor hasn't made any decisions on filling any vacancies" on the BACVA board, said Raquel Guillory, O'Malley's press secretary. "But it is encouraging to see that the governor is looking for the mayor's consent rather than just demanding it."

O'Malley could not be reached for comment.

No vacancies

Only the mayor has the authority to appoint members to the tourism agency's board, which the mayor's chief of staff, Clarence Bishop, heads. Guillory said there are no vacancies on the board.

However, a BACVA board member said Donna Jones Stanley, executive director of Associated Black Charities, is taking a position in Cincinnati and will no longer serve on the BACVA board. Stanley could not be reached, but a representative at Associated Black Charities confirmed her imminent move.

An Ehrlich spokesman said the governor and Schaefer had discussed the possibility of the comptroller - a former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor - serving on the board two weeks ago.

"The governor did recommend Comptroller Schaefer," said Henry Fawell, the Ehrlich spokesman. "The governor thinks [Schaefer] would be a phenomenal addition and is an excellent salesman for the city of Baltimore."

Arthur W. Murphy, a Baltimore political consultant, said the governor was putting the mayor in an awkward situation. If O'Malley rejects the recommendation he risks further alienating Schaefer, who has made it clear that he is not fond of O'Malley.

In August, Schaefer criticized O'Malley for complaining that state government didn't do enough to help the city. Schaefer even considered challenging O'Malley in last month's Democratic mayoral primary.

If the mayor appoints Schaefer, he places a vocal critic into a high-profile position in the city from which to voice his criticism.

"That's a tough political position to be in," Murphy said. "I'm sure if the mayor thought he could control [Schaefer] that he'd be fine with appointing him. But the comptroller can not be controlled and managed."

Schaefer could not be reached for comment. His spokeswoman, Christine Duray, said Schaefer was interested only in helping BACVA rebound from recent troubles and to attract more conventions.

The agency's former director for seven years, Carroll R. Armstrong, was ousted in February after a scathing review of the bureau that detailed allegations of inflated booking and membership numbers. Recent statistics showed that Baltimore's convention business dipped in the most recent fiscal year to its lowest level since the size of the city's convention center was tripled in 1997.

Not a `vendetta'

"This is not about a personal vendetta [Schaefer] has with any politician," Duray said. "It's simply about doing what's right for Baltimore and its future."

Ehrlich "is not doing it to make anyone look bad," she added. "He's doing it because it's the right thing."

Crenson said Schaefer would definitely work hard to help improve the agency but that he would also be quick to criticize O'Malley's administration.

Crenson and Murphy said O'Malley has a difficult choice that hinges on whether he thinks Schaefer is worth the political headache.

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