On the eve of his declaration for governor, Mayor Martin O'Malley is under sharp attack from political rivals and critics, foreshadowing a rough-and-tumble race during the next 14 months.
Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos renewed his criticism of the Democratic mayor yesterday, the same day that his baseball team bought a full-page color advertisement in The Sun thanking Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for pressing for favorable terms that protect the team from financial competition from the Washington Nationals.
O'Malley, meanwhile, expressed support for baseball in Washington.
"I think basically O'Malley is nothing more than a Washington suburbanite who does not understand the city or its people," Angelos, a major Democratic donor, said in an interview yesterday.
Also yesterday, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who is expected to face O'Malley in a Democratic primary, readied a pre-emptive strike on the mayor's credibility. Duncan is set to release campaign fliers today that claim O'Malley has inflated the accomplishments of his six years as mayor, including fighting violent crime, improving public schools, cutting property taxes and fostering economic development.
"Martin O'Malley has a habit of exaggerating in order to divert attention away from a city still plagued by crime, a struggling school system and his failure to meet his own goals," says a Duncan campaign flier obtained by The Sun.
O'Malley is fast approaching the long-awaited next step in his political career, and the attacks scuttled any hopes he might have nurtured of undivided attention.
The mayor has scheduled a series of events tomorrow culminating with a campaign launch speech at Patterson Park.
Duncan's charges provide a look into what is likely to be a staple of his strategy.
Jonathan Epstein, O'Malley's campaign manager, said the charges from Duncan are similar to those made by Republicans.
"Personal attacks by Doug Duncan and Bob Ehrlich turn people off," Epstein said. "Our campaign isn't focused on name-calling. It's focused on moving the state forward and making Maryland stronger. The progress the people of Baltimore have made shows what you can accomplish working together, and we would be proud to defend that record."
Duncan's attack "signals the start of the campaign," said Donald F. Norris, professor of policy sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "These guys are really in it for real now."
Angelos said yesterday that the Ehrlich ad was his idea. It was not timed to coincide with O'Malley's campaign launch, he said, noting that an event honoring the governor at Oriole Park was scheduled weeks ago. Tonight's celebration - which will feature the governor participating in batting practice and throwing out a first pitch - could be followed at a later date by a fundraiser, Angelos said.
He said he thinks highly of the governor for informing Major League Baseball that the state and the Maryland Stadium Authority would be willing to sue to protect the Orioles franchise value. "We're not urging anyone to vote for [Ehrlich]," Angelos said. "That's not the purpose."
But he added that he would not support the mayor during the campaign.
The O'Malley campaign said the team owner was criticizing someone who challenged him.
"How many times have we seen this same act? Whenever someone stands up to Mr. Angelos and he doesn't get his way, he lashes out," Epstein said. "It's unfortunate, but that's just how he is."
Angelos, who made his fortune as a trial lawyer, is an influential but divisive figure in Maryland who donates hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly to national Democratic causes.
State Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman played down the significance of Angelos' support of Ehrlich and said the team owner remains committed to party causes.
"You cannot find a person more passionate on things like minimum wage, health care and human and workers rights than Peter Angelos, and those are all items that the governor has either opposed or vetoed," Lierman said.
Together, the Ehrlich advertisement and the Duncan attacks show that the race for governor will be competitively fought at many levels for well over a year, drawing in surrogates, opposition researchers and other allies.
The Duncan fliers challenge the accuracy of a dozen assertions that O'Malley has made as mayor and as he has traveled the state this year building support for his unannounced campaign. Duncan trails O'Malley in polls for governor and is expected to formally enter the race next month.
The critiques were scheduled for release a day after Duncan assailed the mayor's continued involvement in his band, O'Malley's March, which was to perform last night at Maggie Moore's, an Irish restaurant opening on downtown Baltimore's west side.
"When the Mayor steps on stage again tonight, two days before announcing for the most important job in Maryland, the cycle of violence will continue to spiral out of control," the statement said.