Two rivals clash with two styles

Ehrlich, O'Malley agree schools, crime, bay are key issues, but each candidate says rival is incapable of solving them

Maryland Votes 2006 / The Debates

October 15, 2006|By Andrew A. Green and Doug Donovan | Andrew A. Green and Doug Donovan,Sun reporters

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Mayor Martin O'Malley met twice yesterday for an unusual pair of television debates, testy encounters that revealed the markedly different styles they bring to the governor's race.

Republican Ehrlich and O'Malley, a Democrat, displayed agreement on the most important goals for the state - better schools, safer streets and a cleaner Chesapeake Bay - but each said the other's track record proved him incapable of accomplishing them.

The debates - one of which aired last night on WBAL and Maryland Public Television, and another that will be broadcast on WJZ and MPT tomorrow - might be the only opportunities for tens of thousands of voters to see the two candidates side by side. The fierce race for governor has been largely fought through slick television advertisements and hard-hitting direct-mail pieces, and no more face-to-face encounters are planned. Scheduling disputes between the two campaigns led to the remarkable result of two debates in one day.

O'Malley turned to lofty rhetoric as he made a plea for cooperation between city and state governments and defended his record on education.

"We don't want the leadership of cynicism, of negativity ... but the politics of hope and the politics of dreams and the politics of `we're all in this together' so that our tomorrows can be better than our todays," O'Malley said halfway through the first debate. "We could make a lot more progress if we had a governor who practiced the politics of bringing people together."

Ehrlich stuck with his plain-spoken, off-the-cuff approach, honed through regular appearances on talk radio and other media outlets.

"I don't know what all that means," Ehrlich said to O'Malley. "Any time in your public career ... it's been the leadership style of whining and blaming others for your failures. ... The bottom line of my leadership style is you tell it like it is. You hope they buy blunt. When blunt goes out, so will I."

In both events, the candidates stuck to a basic line of attack.

Ehrlich said that he was sent to Annapolis to change the status quo, and that he has succeeded. O'Malley, he said, has failed at running the city and can't be trusted to lead the state.

On education, the governor said he has funded record increases for schools, leading to high performance in schools everywhere but Baltimore. In the city, he said, O'Malley and Democrats in the General Assembly have thwarted his efforts to bring necessary change, notably in a vote to stop a state takeover of 11 failing city schools.

"My problem with the mayor ... is the vote to stop the constitutional rights for these kids. In fact, I can't think of anything more unfair," Ehrlich said in the second debate. "Mayor, when you go from a 1 percent pass rate to a 2 percent pass rate, it's a 100 percent improvement, but it's not [what] the constitution [guarantees]."

O'Malley countered that Ehrlich is belittling the hard work of city residents, which has led to improvements in test scores and high school graduation rates. The mayor acknowledged that the city has problems, but he said Baltimore has made progress through cooperation.

O'Malley's chief argument against the governor was to claim that there are "two Bob Ehrlichs," one who makes popular election-year promises and another who sides with corporations, not working families.

Discussing utility rate increases, O'Malley accused Ehrlich of appointing a Public Service Commission that neglected its legal responsibility to hold hearings on whether last summer's planned 72-percent increase for BGE customers was necessary.

"We have a governor who believes that it's his job to stand with powerful, wealthy concentrated interests, in this case the utility industry and the energy industry, instead of standing up for the consumers and working people of the state," O'Malley said in the second debate.

Ehrlich countered that O'Malley's grandstanding - which included a lawsuit against the PSC - forced consumers to accept a bad deal on rate relief.

Speaking to reporters after the second debate, the governor embraced the notion of two Bob Ehrlichs. "One is the 60th governor of the state of Maryland, and the next is the 61st governor of the state of Maryland," he said.

For weeks, the two candidates have been trading charges on crime, and they had a pointed exchange on the topic during the second debate.

The mayor said Ehrlich has neglected juvenile justice, understaffed corrections institutions and allowed lax supervision of violent parolees. "Good at pot shots, bad at taking responsibility," O'Malley said.

Ehrlich shot back: "Talk about revolving door. Seven police commissioners in seven years. And that's what we are facing in Baltimore City. Mass arrests of innocent people. But that's the mayor's record.

"Not a whole lot of people are lining up to take criminal justice advice from you, Mayor," Ehrlich said.

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