O'Malley visits land Ehrlich tried to sell

April 19, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE AND DOUG DONOVAN | JOHN FRITZE AND DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTERS

GREAT MILLS -- Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley brought a bit of his big-city fight yesterday to one of the state's most politically provocative parklands in this tranquil town in Southern Maryland.

Surrounded by shoulder-high pines in a protected forest that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. tried to sell to a construction magnate two years ago, O'Malley promised that as governor he would preserve such land with development policies checked by state legislators.

"In Baltimore City, we can't sell an abandoned house without [City Council] approval," O'Malley said during a daylong campaign tour of St. Mary's County. "To think the governor could have sold 836 [acres] under the table."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section Wednesday about Mayor Martin O'Malley's trip to St Mary's County incorrectly identified which spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was speaking. The quotations were from Gregory Massoni.
The Sun regrets the errors.

The mayor's St. Mary's County trip comes a week after a stop there by Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, O'Malley's rival for the Democratic nomination for governor. The campaign stumps in a county evenly split between Democrats and Republicans show how Duncan and O'Malley hope smart growth promises will garner support in an Ehrlich stronghold.

But while Duncan's visit was more low-key - a talk to a St. Mary's College class, a speech in the school's auditorium, a private home visit and a lacrosse game - O'Malley took to the back of an all-terrain, four-wheeled vehicle to examine the land whose aborted sale backfired on Ehrlich.

Two years ago, Ehrlich administration officials had been quietly considering selling the 836-acre preserved forest to Baltimore construction magnate Willard J. Hackerman with no guarantee that he would not develop it. Hackerman, owner of the Whiting Turner Contracting Co., abandoned his plans after they were made public by The Sun.

"Thank God [the deal] fell apart," Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a St. Mary's County Democrat, told O'Malley yesterday. Dyson and local preservationists joined O'Malley on a mile trek into the forest.

O'Malley said he supported the referendum that will appear on the state ballot in November to require the General Assembly's approval of parkland sales cleared by the state's Board of Public Works.

Yesterday, Ehrlich officials chafed at O'Malley's characterization of the park sale as an "under the table" deal because it had come before an open session of the Board of Public Works.

"There was no secrecy to the deal," said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell. "I believe the mayor needs to get his facts correct before he goes ahead and makes false accusations."

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said the governor was instrumental in getting the referendum on the ballot.

"It's one of the only issues" that Ehrlich and O'Malley both support, DeLeaver said.

Fawell said that instead of attacking the governor, O'Malley should be supporting Ehrlich's success in passing the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act, which he said was the "greatest hope for this bay in a generation."

O'Malley conceded nothing to Ehrlich during a day that included a morning fundraiser in Leonardtown, a forest tour, a midafternoon speech to about 150 people at St. Mary's College and an evening event.

"We have to be a lot smarter about developing where the infrastructure already exists and rebuilding our older communities," O'Malley said during his speech at the college auditorium. "Sometimes that's a little more expensive on the front end ... but it's a lot less expensive than it is to chase constant sprawl in cornfields that are becoming these giant developments of little mansionettes."

O'Malley also hit the points of his standard stump speech: crime reduction in Baltimore, improving test scores in the city's public schools and attacking Ehrlich on the state's attempt to take over 11 city schools with failing test scores. He also promised to help reduce college tuition, a pledge Duncan likewise made last week while publicizing his education policy.

"It was just refreshing to hear somebody criticizing the Ehrlich administration and the Bush administration," said Jillian Joseph, 18, a St. Mary's College freshman from Columbia. "I just think that many Democrats are too passive."

O'Malley campaign manager Jonathan Epstein said the mayor and his running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown of Prince George's County, said Democrats could not afford to take voters for granted in St. Mary's County, where Ehrlich won 63 percent of the vote in his 2002 victory.

"Many Democrats only focus on places like Prince George's County and Baltimore City and Montgomery County," Epstein said. "This is a very different type of campaign. We're going to reach out to voters who don't usually hear from Democrats."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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