Star of Ehrlich anti-crime ad has political, criminal past

Maryland Votes 2006

19 Days Until Nov. 7

October 19, 2006|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN REPORTER

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s latest campaign ad portrays Baltimore resident Larry Gaines as a parent-advocate who worries about schools and crime. Gaines goes on to describe himself as a lifelong Democrat who has decided to "be bold" and vote for the Republican incumbent.

But there's much more to Larry Gaines. Not only did Gaines campaign for Ehrlich's first gubernatorial bid in 2002, but he readily concedes that he voted for Ehrlich. State campaign records show that he received a $200 payment from Democrats for Ehrlich four years ago.

Shareese N. DeLeaver, an Ehrlich campaign spokeswoman, defended the ad, even though it suggests that Nov. 7 will be the first time Gaines, a registered Democrat, will vote for a Republican.

"Any time a Democrat in a [majority] Democratic state decides to support a Republican, it is a bold move," said DeLeaver. "Even if it's a second time. Even more so if it's the second time. It means that he voted for change the first time and that he's pleased with the governor's performance."

While Gaines criticizes the crime-fighting record of Ehrlich's Democratic opponent, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, he has had his own brushes with the law.

During an interview, Gaines said that he is a former drug addict with a criminal record that includes a theft charge that earned him a three-year prison stint in the 1990s. State court records also show that he was charged with breaking and entering in Baltimore County in 1985 and that his attorney at the time was William H. Murphy Jr., a Baltimore defense attorney who has appeared in an Ehrlich radio ad. According to court records, Gaines received probation in the case.

The TV ad, which has been getting heavy air play in the Baltimore market, does not mention that Gaines is a full-time city schools employee and a part-time bail bondsman. In the latter role, Gaines arranged bail for clients that have included two alleged drug dealers and a man who police say tried to have sex with his 14-year-old niece. The men missed their initial trial dates and the city had to post judgments against Gaines in an effort to collect the money, an amount that in one of the cases totaled $50,000.

Last year, one of Gaines' sons, a juvenile, was arrested in connection with the stabbing of another youth in the chest during a pickup basketball game. Gaines describes the experience as "horrible" and says it opened his eyes to problems in the Police Department, including racist views that he says resulted in an attempted murder charge against his son.

"You get glimpses of things that you didn't know about before," said Gaines, referring to the charge against the son. Gaines said the youth served 19 days in jail before his case was transferred to a juvenile court and eventually settled without additional incarceration. Said Gaines: "Some children don't get a fair shake in this city."

In his television ad, which began airing Friday, Gaines blames O'Malley for failing to reduce crime and help drug addicts.

"My name is Larry Gaines, and Mr. Martin O'Malley has failed our children," Gaines says in the ad, which he said was unscripted. "You read the headlines, `Gangs in schools.' You look at the articles in the paper, `Guns in schools.' It's real simple. He don't [sic] put the systems in place to reduce crimes. ... I'm going to vote for Gov. Robert Ehrlich because he's the best person."

DeLeaver said that Gaines was not paid for the TV ad - "he was given a hot cup of coffee" -and that he was asked to participate in the advertisement not because of his job with the school system but because of his experiences as a Baltimore resident.

The Ehrlich spokeswoman said the $200 Gaines received in 2002 was for gasoline used to transport voters and campaign workers to polls. She said she was unaware of the stabbing incident with his son but added that even if the campaign had known more about Gaines it might not have been able to get it all in the ad.

"This is an ad about Governor Ehrlich, this is not a biographical essay on Larry Gaines," DeLeaver said. "And you can only say so much in 30 seconds."

A spokesman for O'Malley's campaign declined to comment.

Court records show that two of the three men that Gaines helped make bail were located by authorities. One of the cases was settled when the defendant pleaded guilty to drug charges and was sentenced to six months in prison. The other case, the one involving the man accused of propositioning his niece, is set to go to trial in December. The case involving the $50,000 bail was quashed when the defendant - Jason Booker, 24, of Baltimore - was fatally shot near a Parkville bar in October 2005. However, a judge has yet to sign documents to strike the bond forfeiture.

Gaines, 50, defended the ad yesterday, calling it part of his mission to improve schools and keep kids safe. Although he is employed as a "parent community involvement assistant," he requested that his job title not be included in the ad. He said he didn't want to appear to be a spokesman for his employer, the city school system. As a former president of the system's Parent Community Advisory Board, Gaines said he is used to separating his day job from his advocacy.

"I stay away from identifying myself as a system employee," Gaines said. "This is just a continuation of something that I have always done."

Gaines has been credited with helping to fix drinking fountains that dispensed lead-tainted water at some schools and has fought efforts to increase class sizes. In 2003, he was appointed to represent the city on the Maryland Parent Advisory Council, and this year was made a member of the state Superintendent's Family Involvement Council.

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