O'Malley kin had a function at Elkridge Club

Younger brother held wedding reception in '03

July 15, 2005|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Peter O'Malley, the younger brother of and top political adviser to Mayor Martin O'Malley, held his 2003 wedding reception at the same all-white country club where Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. raised $100,000 last month for his re-election.

Some African-American leaders and other Democrats have vigorously criticized Ehrlich for scheduling a fund-raiser at the exclusive Elkridge Club, which has not admitted a black member in its 127-year history.

But the response from O'Malley, a Democrat, has been muted. He rebuffed a call this week from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan to join him in demanding that Ehrlich apologize. Duncan and O'Malley are expected to face each other in a Democratic primary for governor.

It now appears O'Malley may have had a personal reason to avoid the discussion, not wanting to drag his brother and in-laws into the flap.

Peter O'Malley, 35, said his wife, the former Melinda Kimmett, and her mother selected the location.

"My wife asked about price, capacity, catering -- things like that," he said. "It never occurred to her, in the year 2003, to ask if the place we were renting had any African-American members. It certainly was integrated the day we were there."

Peter O'Malley said neither he nor his wife's family are members of the club, founded in 1878. Outsiders can hold events there if they are sponsored by members; he would not say which member gave approval to hold the wedding reception there.

The reception is the latest twist in a story that has gone on for weeks.

Critics -- particularly African-American leaders -- say the governor appeared insensitive by raising money at an exclusionary venue, and, after being confronted, refusing to apologize or acknowledge that he may have made a mistake.

But Ehrlich supporters say the issue is unimportant because private clubs can, by law, choose the members they want.

Duncan wrote the governor this week, demanding that Ehrlich apologize for the June 20 Governor's Cup event. "Your failure to apologize is a slap in the face to all fair-minded Marylanders," he wrote.

The county executive asked O'Malley to join him in the demand. But O'Malley declined. "I'm focused on the future, about what brings us together," the mayor said this week, calling Duncan's letter a "desperate" bid for media attention.

A campaign manager said Duncan did not know about the wedding reception when he wrote the letters.

"We're not going to comment on what is clearly a family matter," said Scott Arcenaux. "The mayor has thus far refused to [apologize]. The reasons behind that, we are not going to speculate."

Ehrlich's office and a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party also said they would not comment on the wedding reception.

Steve Kearney, a spokesman for the mayor, would not discuss whether the reception tempered the mayor's response to the governor's fund-raiser. O'Malley did not return a telephone call.

"As the mayor has said before, he has not and will not hold events at restricted clubs," Kearney said. "It's always the wrong thing to do in a diverse society."

Melinda O'Malley, an assistant attorney general who works for the Maryland Insurance Administration, has made news before. This year, e-mail messages surfaced showing that Joseph F. Steffen Jr., the Ehrlich aide fired for spreading Internet rumors about Mayor O'Malley, made inquiries about whether she could be removed from her job. She was on maternity leave at the time.

Ehrlich allies have attempted to blunt criticism by showing that Democrats have held events at the Elkridge Club. One other fund-raiser has been confirmed, for Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith in May.

At least one top aide to the governor has intimated that Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger has close ties to the club, an allegation that was spread by talk-radio callers and Internet message board posters. In an interview yesterday, Democrat Ruppersberger said he played golf at the club once about 15 years ago, and spoke to a business group there about a decade ago.

Ruppersberger criticized Ehrlich for not taking responsibility for what he said was a lapse in judgment.

"As an elected official, we represent every one. We have to be sensitive to the way [African-Americans] feel," Ruppersberger said. "If this causes anxiety, then we should not do it.

"When you have an issue like this, you have to stand up and take responsibility for your actions," he said. "You don't have to dump on other people."

Isiah Leggett, former chairman of the state Democratic Party, who is black, said O'Malley should vigorously denounce clubs such as Elkridge, as should other leaders. African-American voters remain concerned that Democrats take their support for granted, he said, and politicians need to work to reverse those concerns.

"To stand by and not respond to this sends a wrong signal to a set of voters who are reeling from some of the things that have happened in the past," Leggett said.

Sun staff writers Andrew A. Green and Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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