GOV. ROBERT L. Ehrlich Jr. famously sold one Maryland-owned ship through an online auction on eBay.
But he kept a second one around. And it's a good thing, too. Otherwise, the elaborate photo opportunity last week at City Dock in Annapolis would have been a lot harder to pull off.
As hundreds of lawmakers, lobbyists and state residents waited in the State House for a traditional bill-signing ceremony Wednesday, Ehrlich participated in a splashier open-air event a few hundred yards away.
The governor gathered the General Assembly's presiding officers, several Cabinet members, a high school band and a few television cameras for a rare outdoor bill-signing on the deck of the Pride of Baltimore II, the replica of a Baltimore clipper that is one of the state's goodwill ambassadors.
Camera crews captured the image of the governor as environmental savior. The ceremony was convened for the signing of an Ehrlich-backed bill creating a user fee for sewage and septic customers (in truth, just about every Marylander) to pay for upgrades to aging treatment plants.
The image, it seems, is just one of the freebies that comes with being governor.
Go to the Pride of Baltimore II Web site, and you'll find that to charter the vessel for a dockside reception, the price is at least $3,000 - a minimum of three hours at $1,000 an hour. A sailing trip is $1,200 an hour for the same three-hour minimum.
So how much did the governor pay to be photographed along with other state officials signing a bill on the deck of the ship under a marvelous blue sky?
"They did not pay," said Jerome Bird, public relations director for the nonprofit organization that manages the ship.
The ship is owned by the state, Bird notes, and Maryland taxpayers pay about one-third of its annual $1 million operating budget. The state Department of Natural Resources called to arrange for the ship to travel from Baltimore's Inner Harbor to Annapolis, he said. And because the Pride of Baltimore II was spending May in the Chesapeake Bay, the operators were happy to comply. The ship sailed May 25 from Baltimore and returned Thursday.
"If you understand what the mission of the ship is, in relation to the state of Maryland and the citizens of Maryland, you would see that raising the flag and showing the flag in Annapolis is an entirely appropriate activity," Bird said.
But are political activities entirely appropriate? A rumor began swirling around the State House soon after the ceremony ended that an Ehrlich campaign crew also was at the dock capturing the festivities for use during the governor's 2006 re-election bid.
John Reith, the campaign's finance director, said last week that he did not know of a film crew's presence. Nor did Greg Massoni, the governor's press secretary. But he said if there wasn't one, it would have been a missed opportunity.
"I hope we had a campaign crew there, but I don't know," Massoni said. Asked whether voters should expect to see the image of Ehrlich aboard the ship in campaign advertisements in a couple of years, Massoni responded: "Sure. Why not?"
Interest in drug law unites black legislator, GOP leader
An intriguing partnership between a ranking African-American lawmaker and one of the legislature's Republican leaders might have blossomed during a day spent in the New York state capital last week.
Republican Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority whip from Southern Maryland, and Democratic Del. Obie Patterson, the outgoing head of the Legislative Black Caucus from Prince George's County, spent last Tuesday together in Albany as guests of the Drug Policy Alliance.
The Maryland lawmakers attended a conference committee of New York legislators working on reforming the state's Rockefeller-era drug laws, which have resulted in large numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics being incarcerated for nonviolent crimes.
Maryland revised its drug laws this year by passing a treatment-instead-of-incarceration program, backed by Ehrlich, with strong bipartisan support.
"Delegate O'Donnell and myself find ourselves on opposite sides of every issue," said Patterson in a statement released the day of the trip. "But for this important bill, we and our parties decided to put our differences aside in order to save money and lives."
Indeed, the Maryland treatment bill was passed unanimously in the Senate and with one dissenting vote in the House, thanks in part to a rare alliance between black lawmakers and the GOP.
The New York trip "was a way for me to continue to build an alliance with our Legislative Black Caucus," O'Donnell said in an interview upon his return. "We have to look for areas of mutual interest. Building relationships is the first step."
If the two caucuses found more common interests, they would have a majority - 32 African-Americans and 43 Republicans, all of them white, in the 141-member House - to enact their agenda.
O'Donnell would not name any issues he thought the two caucuses could work on in the months ahead. But he said that the ability to spend time with Patterson was "the enticement" that persuaded him to travel to Albany.