Duncan slams O'Malley over transit issues

Candidates for governor speak at forum

June 15, 2006|By DOUG DONOVAN | DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTER

It wasn't a debate, but a candidates forum in Bethesda yesterday turned into a showdown between the Democratic rivals for governor when Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan pounced on Mayor Martin O'Malley's answers on transit issues.

Both candidates delivered 10-minute pitches to the Greater Washington Board of Trade and then answered questions that focused on Capitol region gridlock - primarily the Intercounty Connector and a transit corridor called the Purple Line.

O'Malley's speech barely mentioned Duncan, but the county executive - with the mayor sitting in front of him -attacked O'Malley on the ICC, a disputed toll road that would link Interstate 95 to Interstate 270 in Montgomery County.

Duncan said the mayor's stance on the $2.4 billion ICC is disingenuous, because while he has supported the proposed highway, he has criticized Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s plan to pay for it. In 2003, O'Malley testified in Annapolis that Ehrlich's funding plan shortchanged Baltimore-area initiatives.

Duncan further chastised what he characterized as a two-faced approach by saying that O'Malley and Ehrlich "are good at politics, but not governing," and that they are "good at press releases and election-year gimmicks, but not at finding and implementing real, long-term solutions to improve our state."

"Take a position. Be a man," Duncan said after the event. "What's he going to do as governor if he doesn't have me around giving him ideas?"

O'Malley said one road should not represent the state's entire vision for transportation. He said that he "would like to see us complete the ICC, but more importantly I'd like to see us engage in a broader conversation about the other important components," such as mass transit.

O'Malley said Duncan's attack before a room of about 100 people at the Bethesda Marriott was typical as the two compete in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. "I'm not surprised by anything the county executive would do to attack me," O'Malley said. "I mean, that's kind of been his MO for the last year."

But O'Malley gave Duncan more ammunition with his answers at the lunch. When the moderator asked O'Malley to name "two or three [transportation] initiatives" that he supports in the Washington area, the mayor said, "I think it's premature to say that."

Duncan responded with a litany: the ICC, the Purple Line, the study of a Potomac River crossing, and a transit link between Gaithersburg and Frederick.

When the moderator asked if O'Malley supported a below-ground version of the Purple Line, a proposed $1.4 billion, 14-mile connector between Silver Spring and New Carrollton, the mayor said, "I would prefer to see a below-grade Purple Line."

Purple Line advocates said below-ground plans have not been economically or politically viable for years. The only viable option, they say, is one championed by Rep. Chris Van Hollen for a mostly above-ground system - the plan Duncan said he supports.

Afterwards, O'Malley sought to align his position with Duncan's by saying he could support the Van Hollen plan. But then he said he had not seen it.

Ben Ross, president of the Action Committee for Transit in Montgomery County, indicated he was not impressed by O'Malley's response.

"If I was a prosecutor, I'd have a few more questions to ask to clarify it," Ross said.

Andrew J. Scott, a Board of Trade official, said many members wanted to hear "firmer support" and more specifics from O'Malley. He later said the group also wanted more specifics from both candidates on transportation funding.

O'Malley said after the event that he and Duncan agree on transportation, and that voters should worry not about their differences but about how they differ from Ehrlich, whom O'Malley said does not believe in mass transit.

Duncan said the mayor was masking his lack of ideas. "He does not have a firm grasp of the issues facing the people of Maryland," said Duncan.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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