Ehrlich nominates ex-federal official for state health post

Silver Spring resident who served under Reagan, Bush to start next month

September 23, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

A veteran federal official who held department management posts in the Reagan and first Bush administrations was nominated by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday to replace departing state health secretary Nelson J. Sabatini.

S. Anthony McCann, 61, would earn $155,000 a year as secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, a job he is scheduled to start next month.

The department manages more than $6 billion in state and federal funds, including nearly $4 billion for Medicaid programs, and is viewed as a probable source of spending cuts as Ehrlich seeks to balance the budget without new taxes.

Currently a top financial administrator with the Smithsonian Institution, McCann was assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services from 1986 to 1989, and assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from 1989 to 1993.

He has also held staff positions on Senate and House fiscal committees.

In an interview yesterday, the lifelong Silver Spring resident said he was drawn to the state job by Ehrlich's approach to public policy, which he called "extraordinarily good," and for a chance to manage his own department after years as a federal financial officer.

"There were a lot of things that were easy to say when you are a fed," he said. "Now I actually try to get to operate something. That's the attractiveness of this job."

Sabatini, who recruited McCann for the position, said he respects his successor's abilities.

"He's a first-rate manager. He understands big organizations, and he's always appreciated the role of career employees," Sabatini said. "He's worked on the Republican side of the aisle ever since I've known him, but he does not let his ideology get in the way of his brain."

Sabatini is completing his second stint as health secretary, having also served under Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

He is retiring at the end of the month to spend more time with family in Hawaii and to start a consulting business.

Others considered for the job included former Sen. Robert R. Neall, who withdrew late in the selection process; and Sen. Andrew P. Harris, an anesthesiologist whose candidacy drew criticism because of his strong anti-abortion views.

McCann said he is pro-abortion rights. The secretary's position is subject to confirmation by the state Senate, where Democrats hold a 33-14 majority.

Also yesterday, Ehrlich named two deputy secretaries for the department, promoting longtime agency staffer John G. Folkemer and tapping Del. Van T. Mitchell, a Charles County Democrat.

Mitchell, 48, has been chairman for the last two years of the House subcommittee that oversees the health department's budget.

"It became obvious to me that with the pressures of health care continuing to increase and the older, aging population and things like that, you're going to have to be innovative and creative and find new ways of stretching the dollar in order to meet the needs of the people," Mitchell said. "That's a huge challenge."

Mitchell is replacing Arlene Stephenson, a 22-year department veteran who has been a deputy secretary for five years. Stephenson said she is moving to a position at Springfield Hospital Center, a psychiatric institution in Carroll County, next month.

Sun staff writer Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.

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