Balto. Co. leaders endorse O'Malley

Neighboring Democratic officials come out in force for Baltimore mayor


Saying Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. must be denied a second term, more than 30 current and former elected Democrats from Baltimore County endorsed Mayor Martin O'Malley for governor yesterday, giving him an early boost in what could be the most pivotal jurisdiction in the November election.

Strong O'Malley support in Baltimore County would also form a bulwark against the mayor's Democratic primary opponent, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

But the focus at an O'Malley rally at a union hall in Dundalk yesterday was squarely on Ehrlich, an Arbutus native who represented the county in the legislature and Congress.

The O'Malley backers said Maryland has been adrift under Ehrlich and that the mayor is the man to renew progress in the state.

"People will look at Martin as somebody who has taken on tough issues in Baltimore City. He's been a leader and produced results," said County Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat. "As our state looks at solving tough problems, they know he'll get things done."

O'Malley said he has worked closely with leaders of his neighboring county to bring progress to the region and pledged to continue as governor.

"The choice in this election is very clear," O'Malley said. "We can choose to do what Baltimore County has done ... to rush out and to make progress to protect our city and our communities, or we can elect Bob Ehrlich, who, like President Bush, thinks there's nothing you can do about it."

Baltimore County was responsible for almost all of the governor's margin of victory in 2002. Although Democrats won all the other major races in the county that year, Ehrlich won 61 percent of the vote there, 4 points better than Republican nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey did in the 1994 election and 10 points better than she did in 1998.

Ehrlich's campaign there was so strong - and support for his Democratic opponent, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, was so weak - that many Democratic politicians effectively sat on the sidelines in the 2002 race. They rarely appeared with Townsend, a Ruxton resident and lieutenant governor at the time, on the campaign trail and often changed the subject when conversations with voters turned to the governor's race.

But not this time.

"We've got a new candidate this time," said Del. Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, a Dundalk Democrat. "I think we're going to see a big turnaround."

Sen. Jim Brochin, a Towson Democrat, stayed neutral in the last governor's race but yesterday he said he won't hesitate to support the mayor. Townsend got about 31 percent of the vote in his district, but Brochin said he expects to see O'Malley do at least 10 points better.

"It's going to be a very competitive race in the 42nd District," he said.

Democratic activists who attended the event said Ehrlich might have a hard time recapturing support in places such as Dundalk and Essex because of anger over his decisions to raise highway and bridge tolls, increase car registration fees and boost the state property tax rate.

The governor has also dropped in esteem, they said, because of his stand in favor of the deal to transfer some Port of Baltimore operations to a United Arab Emirates firm, and his positioning as a self-appointed "neutral arbiter" with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. over the pending 72 percent rate increase for the company's 1.2 million residential customers.

"Not taking an aggressive stance early has hurt him," said Wayne Brooks, a member of the Battle Grove Democratic Club, a Dundalk institution, referring to the port deal and electricity rates. "People say either lead or get out of the way, and Martin O'Malley at each corner has run past Ehrlich and taken the people's banner, not the Republican or Democratic banner, and run with it."

The Democrats who endorsed O'Malley yesterday had nothing bad to say about Duncan, who has been working hard to win support in the suburbs around Baltimore. But they said they are more familiar with O'Malley and think he would be the stronger candidate against Ehrlich.

"I believe he can win," said Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. of Dundalk.

Duncan spokeswoman Jody Couser declined to comment on the endorsements.

Although O'Malley wrapped up the support of all six Democratic County councilmen, most of the Democratic delegates and senators, the sheriff and other leaders, some big names remain uncommitted: Sens. Delores G. Kelley and Paula C. Hollinger; Del. Adrienne A. Jones, the House speaker pro tempore; and, perhaps the biggest Democratic name of them all, County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

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