For the second time in three weeks, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. paid a visit yesterday to Baltimore's police union, which gave him praise and two standing ovations but stopped short of an official endorsement for his re-election bid.
But the union did endorse Ehrlich's lieutenant governor, Michael S. Steele, for his undeclared but anticipated candidacy for U.S. Senate.
"We wanted to be one of the first to show our support to him," Lt. Frederick Roussey, president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said of Steele, who was not at the meeting.
Officially, Roussey said, the lodge has not announced an endorsement of Ehrlich's 2006 re-election campaign.
"We want to give the mayor [Martin O'Malley] a chance, to see what he has to offer," Roussey said, "but I can tell you we love the governor."
O'Malley is expected to be a candidate for the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Ehrlich did not go away empty-handed: Union officials gave him an FOP jacket, hat and T-shirt, and a plaque declaring him "a true friend" of Maryland law enforcement.
"I understand this year is a tough year with tough decisions to make," Ehrlich told the police group, adding that, "I would encourage you to support those who support you."
In 2002, the lodge aired 60-second radio ads in which the widow of a slain city officer urged voters to support Ehrlich. Off-duty police and firefighters went door to door to distribute pro-Ehrlich literature.
The lodge's president, Gary McLhinney, was appointed by Ehrlich a few months afterward as chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.
Yesterday, the lodge emphasized Ehrlich's family ties to city police - his grandfather was a city police officer. "He's family to us," Roussey said.
For his part, Ehrlich gave his thoughts on the approaching campaign season.
"As far as my race, it doesn't matter who the other candidates are," he said, because the incumbent's record is the foremost issue. "It's a referendum on me, and I'm willing to stand by my record."
Next month, O'Malley is scheduled to meet with the lodge's members to answer questions in a town hall-type session. Roussey said the mayor might face some tough critics in the law enforcement crowd, particularly on the three-year union contract negotiated in 2004.
"We feel the city could have given a little more on that contract," Roussey said. "The members here are not pleased with it, and I'm going to ask the mayor to reopen the contract. ... We don't have issues with the governor like we do with the mayor. But we'll see what the mayor has to say."
O'Malley's campaign manager, Jonathan Epstein, said later: "Ever since Governor Ehrlich took office, he has undermined the efforts of Baltimore's law enforcement as Mayor O'Malley has made public safety a central issue."