O'Malley gets health care union's nod

Mayor decries Ehrlich record on labor in speech to SEIU local


Mayor Martin O'Malley buttressed his Democratic front-runner status in the race for Maryland governor yesterday when a politically influential union endorsed his campaign at an event in downtown Baltimore.

The announcement by 1199 SEIU, a health care workers union, comes three days before O'Malley's Democratic rival is expected to formally enter the campaign for their party's primary next September.

But in his speech to a crowd of about 100 members of Service Employees International Union Local 1199, O'Malley made no mention of Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who is expected to land his own endorsements from unions in his region.

Instead, O'Malley criticized Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s record on issues important to unions and the working class.

O'Malley said that under Ehrlich college tuition has soared and more people cannot afford health coverage. He criticized the Republican governor for vetoing legislation raising wages and mandating that large companies provide health care benefits. He said the Republican policies of Ehrlich and President Bush benefit pharmaceutical companies while working-class families are left unable to afford prescription medicine.

O'Malley also accused Ehrlich of "bending over backwards" to secure tax breaks for companies while raising fees on average people.

"How sad is it for us as a country that shahs and sheiks and kings and queens fly from all over the planet to receive the best health care in the world here in our city, yet many Maryland families live each day without even basic health care?" O'Malley said. "That's not right."

An Ehrlich spokesman declined to respond to O'Malley's attacks. Ehrlich has said that the legislation he vetoed would drive up the cost of doing business in Maryland and worsen what he says had been the state's reputation as a place unfriendly to commerce.

The endorsement from Local 1199 was significant for O'Malley, who enjoys double-digit leads over Duncan in early polls, because both he and the Montgomery executive lobbied for it. The union had previously been unaffiliated with its larger New York branch, but the groups merged this summer. Even before the merger, however, Local 1199 had been supportive of O'Malley.

Although the Maryland branch has about 8,000 members, mostly in the Baltimore and Prince George's County areas, the merger gives it access to the group's 265,000 members and other political resources, said John Reid, director of the Maryland and Washington division.

"They are a very, very strong union," said O'Malley, who was joined yesterday by Democratic Dels. Curtis S. Anderson of Baltimore and Veronica L. Turner of Prince George's and state Sen. Verna L. Jones of Baltimore.

Reid praised Duncan and O'Malley but said the mayor has the better chance of beating Ehrlich.

"[Ehrlich] is not a friend of the working people," Reid said.


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