O'Malley, Duncan take their messages to voters

Democratic contenders tackle leadership, education as campaign for gubernatorial nomination begins

October 22, 2005|By JENNIFER SKALKA AND DAVID NITKIN | JENNIFER SKALKA AND DAVID NITKIN,SUN REPORTERS

OCEAN CITY -- Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan boarded his campaign RV yesterday morning -- his first full day as an official candidate for governor -- after a lousy night's sleep. The Maryland Terrapins' loss to Virginia Tech's football team had him wired.

"I was so depressed that Maryland lost I couldn't sleep at all," he said as he sank into the vehicle's blue leather captain's chair.

But Duncan perked up with little effort. After all, he had people to meet and speeches to give.

So did Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. O'Malley left the city yesterday afternoon for a visit to Bowie, the largest community in Prince George's County, which has the most registered Democrats in the state. A councilman wanted to show off Bowie's commercial potential.

"We have a lot of good things going on here and around the state," said O'Malley, referring to his campaign organization.

With Duncan formally announcing his candidacy this week, the quest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination has begun in earnest. As both Duncan and O'Malley hit the campaign trail this weekend, the challenges they each face and the themes they will focus on are becoming clear.

Duncan, who traveled the Eastern Shore yesterday, is introducing himself to voters around the state who are likely more familiar with O'Malley, whose appearances in the Baltimore media market reach voters who live well beyond the city. Duncan has trailed in early polls while O'Malley has become a favorite among several key party players.

O'Malley, meanwhile, hopes to maintain his early momentum. He's also finding himself responding to Duncan's challenge of the mayor's leadership on education.

Duncan spoke yesterday at the Maryland State Teachers Association convention in Ocean City, promising to improve teacher pensions if elected. MSTA represents 62,000 educators and is expected to endorse a candidate for governor next spring. O'Malley is scheduled to speak at the conference today.

"Maryland can't be the fifth-wealthiest state in our country and yet rank last in our pensions for teachers," Duncan said at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center.

His remarks, which didn't offer specifics for teacher pension reform, resonated with several educators.

Valeria Arch, president of the Allegany County Teachers Association, said she's supporting Duncan because he's helped maintain a strong school system in Montgomery County.

"I have concerns about O'Malley," Arch said. "I look at the situation in Baltimore City, the schools, and that kind of says it to me. I want a pro-education governor."

O'Malley said that his speech, too, will address the need to keep young and talented teachers from abandoning the classroom. The mayor agrees that teacher pensions must be improved. He also said he will call for programs to reduce debt for teachers coming out of college, so young educators can afford to take jobs in troubled schools where their efforts are needed most.

Faced with high bills and a challenging work environment, "it's little wonder that they burn out," he said. "The least we can do for someone who dedicates their whole life is offer them a better pension than we do now."

Education consistently ranks as a top voter concern in surveys, and the issue appears certain to be heavily debated in the governor's race. Duncan said in his announcement speech that schools are the foundation for economic development and community growth, and took a swipe at O'Malley when he said Maryland can't move ahead if Baltimore schools lag behind.

"I think we're all in this together," the mayor said yesterday. "I haven't listened to much of what he is saying, but I hope he recognizes the pace of the progress we are making. I don't think we should belittle the strides and the accomplishments of our kids and our teachers. Five years ago, not one of our grades scored a majority proficient in reading and math. Now first, second, third and fourth [do]."

Duncan, 49, started his day yesterday at The Dough Roller, a breakfast and lunch joint on this beach community's main drag. The 30 or so people in attendance burst into applause when he entered the room. Joined by his wife, Barbara, and their daughter, Conor, Duncan said he would keep talking about city issues.

Del. Norman H. Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he doesn't want to see Duncan and O'Malley bloody each other during the primary. "Both candidates are tremendously competent," he said. "I think the Democrats have a tough choice."

Duncan made an appearance yesterday at the Maryland NAACP convention. He was expected to speak but didn't because of a scheduling conflict, according to the campaign. He toured Salisbury State University and participated in a student roundtable.

O'Malley yesterday walked through a pair of Bowie shopping centers. His host was D. Michael Lyles, a city councilman who represents the area.

"What [O'Malley] needs to do is come, like he's doing now -- listen, talk to the leaders, talk to the people," Lyles said.

jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com

david.nitkin@baltsun.com

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