Ehrlich's DSS pick gets show of support at downtown rally

City Hall demonstration highlights city-state split

August 11, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s choice to lead a city-based social service agency got a drum-pounding, pompom-shaking show of support outside City Hall yesterday from about 15 demonstrators and a marching band.

The rally came as city and state leaders have, under pressure from a court ruling, begun working together - and separately - to find someone to lead the Baltimore City Department of Social Services.

But demonstrators and a spokesman for Ehrlich said they believe the governor's first choice, Floyd R. Blair, should remain at the helm of the state agency, which serves the city's most vulnerable children and adults.

"Floyd Blair has shown an interest in us that no one else has shown," said Rita Animashaun, a veteran foster care caseworker who credited Blair for increasing staff. "He's trying. I really believe he's trying."

Animashaun took part in the rally along with members of the Maryland Classified Employees Association and the Unity Steppers Marching Band, which drummed and danced around War Memorial Plaza during the lunch hour. MCEA represents some employees of the agency, but most are part of another, larger union that was not involved in yesterday's protest.

Invited to draw attention to the protest, the band drowned out the chants of demonstrators and prompted at least one of the homeless men trying to nap at the plaza to pack up his bedroll and leave.

The Ehrlich administration appointed Blair in September as interim director against the wishes of Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who is expected to run for governor in the 2006 election. O'Malley filed a lawsuit seeking Blair's removal because he lacked five years' management experience and the mayor's approval. Both are required by law.

On July 12, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled that the state did not have the right to install Blair without the mayor's consent. She gave the state and city 45 days to agree on someone to lead the agency but did not order Blair's immediate removal.

In recent weeks, the city and state have begun working together to find candidates for the job by advertising the position in newspapers and professional journals. But the city and state are not in complete accord.

On its own, the city has hired Ralph Andersen & Associates, a recruiting firm, to identify other candidates, said City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler.

Ehrlich, meanwhile, maintains that Blair should keep the job and ought to be a finalist.

"His firm belief remains that Mr. Blair should be a candidate for this job and believes he is the best person for this job," said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell.

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