O'Malley, Duncan criticize Ehrlich

Democratic rivals speak separately about business issues at candidates forum

May 17, 2006|By JENNIFER SKALKA | JENNIFER SKALKA,SUN REPORTER

In a dual public appearance yesterday before an audience of business leaders, the two leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates criticized Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for neglecting the state's technology industry and having election-year conversions on stem-cell research and a college tuition freeze.

"I do not believe that the governor of Maryland should incessantly bad-mouth the business climate of a very strong state that is growing and creating jobs because of your investment and talent," said Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan chastised Ehrlich, a Republican, for signing legislation to commit $15 million of state money to stem cell research after allowing similar proposals to die in past years.

"We need a governor who's going to be there every year, not just in an election year," Duncan said.

Both candidates criticized Ehrlich for the growing lack of affordability of higher education. The governor supported a tuition cap this year, but only after Democratic lawmakers pushed the initiative.

Duncan and O'Malley have not debated, and yesterday's forum - before about 200 people gathered for a Maryland Chamber of Commerce and Technology Council of Maryland luncheon at a Marriott in Linthicum - did not produce sparks. The candidates spoke separately, and each took questions alone at a podium.

But some attendees said it was the first time they had seen O'Malley and Duncan together, and it gave them a glimpse of the candidates' different styles and interests.

Duncan told business leaders that he would like the state to create, nurture and promote its "Research Diamond," a collection of assets including the National Institutes of Health, the Interstate 270 biotechnology corridor, Fort Meade, the University of Maryland, College Park and the Johns Hopkins University, among other research institutions.

Duncan said that Ehrlich has spent too much of his term pushing for slot machines and not enough time working to strengthen Maryland's most valuable academic and scientific assets.

"I don't want to live in a state that's in the bottom 10 in technology and the top 10 in gambling," Duncan said.

Duncan and O'Malley made reference to remarks that Ehrlich made at a business luncheon two years ago, when he told industry leaders to "be dangerous" and threaten to withhold support from lawmakers who vote for tax increases.

"I'm not here today to ask you or anyone in this state to be dangerous," O'Malley said. "As your neighbor, I want you to be successful."

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said the business community has responded to the governor's "message to get dangerous."

"For years, lawmakers tried to tax their way out of every problem they created and small businesses were usually in the cross hairs," Fawell said. "The governor's been very clear that employers need to stop writing campaign checks to lawmakers who consistently vote against their well-being, whether they're Republicans or Democrats."

O'Malley also rebutted charges that Baltimore's school system is failing and that crime remains a problem, noting that Baltimore received an Innovations in American Government Award for responding promptly to citizen needs.

"That's a big turnabout for a city that many people thought was dying seven years ago," said O'Malley, who took office in 1999.

Luncheon attendee Diana Burton, a Bel Air software professional who grew up in Baltimore, voted for Ehrlich in 2002, feeling that his opponent, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, was not a viable choice. But Burton said she will vote for a Democrat this year.

"I really didn't feel like I had much choice," she said of the 2002 contest. "This year I have a choice."

jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com

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