Democrats in Md. pick a chairman

The Political Game

Election: Montgomery County businessman Terry Lierman is the choice to lead the state's Democratic Party.

December 14, 2004|By Andrew A. Green and David Nitkin | Andrew A. Green and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

PLEDGING TO to hold Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. accountable for his "failed policies," Maryland Democrats elected Montgomery County businessman Terry Lierman last night as the party's new chairman.

Lierman, a one-time congressional candidate, is identified with the party's progressive (aka liberal) wing. He became a shoo-in for the post after top elected Democrats - including Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley - agreed on Nov. 30 to back him. That same day, Lierman's top competition, party treasurer Gary Gensler, dropped out of the race for personal reasons.

Dan Rupli, a Frederick County attorney and longtime party activist who had criticized the selection of Lierman as a back-room deal, withdrew from the race last night.

Before conceding that he did not have enough support to win, Rupli challenged the party to look beyond the "big three" strategy that former Gov. Parris N. Glendening used to win statewide by running up large margins in Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

"We've got to develop a 23-county program for the state," Rupli said. "We can no longer rely on the metropolitan areas to carry the state for Democrats."

Lierman, who ran unsuccessfully against former U.S. Rep. Connie Morella in 2000, pledged to "leave no county behind." He said Democrats will contest every race in the state in 2006 and that he will visit every Maryland county in the next two months to gather ideas for the party's direction.

Isiah "Ike" Leggett, who officially stepped down last night after two years as party chairman, said Democrats have come a long way since Ehrlich's victory against former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002.

"Not only did we lose the governorship, but many people were upset by the way we lost it," he said. "Some described it as not a loss but essentially that we gave it away. We did not put our best foot forward."

Lierman, the Maryland chairman for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's failed presidential bid, pledged not to make that mistake again, saying: "When voters know the issues, Democrats win."

He said he would be aggressive in criticizing Ehrlich's policies, particularly on education, the environment, transportation and health care.

Democrats might have a contested primary in 2006, but Lierman said that the party will make sure that Ehrlich does not have a free ride before the Democratic nominee is selected.

"We are going to hold his feet to the fire," Lierman said.

Winning endorsement more victory by default

On the surface, last week's endorsement by the state's two Republican congressman of Harford County's State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly to become Maryland's next U.S. attorney appeared straightforward.

Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett and Wayne T. Gilchrest said in a letter to President Bush that Cassilly was their top choice. Both congressmen represent portions of Harford County, where Cassilly is a well-respected prosecutor.

But the endorsement contains some intriguing political undertones.

Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle has been telling some political figures that he has Governor Ehrlich's backing for the job.

If that's true, why would two of the governor's former Republican colleagues go against Ehrlich's wishes?

First, there is no way Bartlett could support Rolle. The Frederick prosecutor committed a cardinal sin by running against Bartlett in the 1st District Republican congressional primary this year. Bartlett won't forgive Rolle any time soon.

Second, relations between Gilchrest and Ehrlich are not the best. Gilchrest has been telling politicos that the governor has not returned his calls for two years. Gilchrest has publicly opposed legalizing slot machines, the governor's top priority, creating something of a headache for Ehrlich.

Finally, it's not clear that Ehrlich will have the final say in who becomes U.S. attorney. Political experts say folks in Washington are none too pleased with the performance of retiring prosecutor Thomas M. DiBiagio, who was picked for the spot with Ehrlich's blessing. So even though the governor is the state's top Republican, he might not get to select DiBiagio's successor.

The governor has not publicly stated a favorite for the post.

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