Warm receptions for the candidates

Campaign Day

Maryland Votes 2006

October 23, 2006|By Chris Emery and Jill Rosen | Chris Emery and Jill Rosen,SUN REPORTERS

West Baltimore's Bethel AME Church showered Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his wife with ovations - and donations - yesterday as both gubernatorial contenders brought their campaigns to religious communities.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley received hearty applause at a candidates forum at a Montgomery County synagogue, where he tied Ehrlich's policies to President Bush and urged the state to move away from the "politics of division and fear."

O'Malley is scheduled to appear at Bethel AME Church on Sunday, but yesterday the church was reserved for his Republican opponent, who has sought for years to make inroads among black voters who are traditionally Democrats.

"Whether you voted for him the last time or not," the Rev. Frank M. Reid III said, "let us show some honor and respect to the governor of the greatest state in the world."

Members of the congregation leapt to their feet for a boisterous round of applause. Later, they showed their support more tangibly after Reid pointed out how campaign law prevents churches - but not churchgoers - from giving money to candidates.

"We cannot write a church check to a politician, but when people come to speak, you should sow into their lives," said Reid, a longtime Democratic campaign contributor who has given considerably to O'Malley.

"Here's what I want you to do," the pastor continued. "I want 10 people to write me a check for $100 to Friends of Ehrlich. You can make it out for more than that, but it has to be 10.

"Let's do this real quick. That's Friends of Ehrlich. E-H-R-L-I-C-H."

Someone quickly pressed a $100 bill into Reid's hand. "Let's give God a hand for $100 cash," Reid boomed into his microphone as more parishioners scribbled their names onto checks.

"Governor," said Reid, once he had collected a number of checks, "whose hand do you want me to put these in?"

Reid said he planned to do the same thing Sunday when O'Malley addresses the church.

Ehrlich peppered about 30 minutes of remarks with numerous jokes and stories that had the crowd chuckling. He turned serious to talk about leadership and the separation of church and state - a topic that he says sometimes confuses people.

"I read it last night," he said, waving what appeared to be a copy of Maryland's Constitution. "Nowhere is it written that my job requires me to be hostile to the church, to church people or to faith-based organizations."

At times quoting Scripture, Ehrlich spoke at length about the attributes of a leader - character, willpower, compassion and appetite for risk.

"I don't know what it's like to be black in America," he said. "But I'm a Republican in a black church. I don't deserve [the stereotypes], either."

As the service ended and people poured out of the church onto Druid Hill Avenue, one parishioner after another praised the governor's remarks.

"He just got my vote," said Juanita Williams of Northwest Baltimore. "I believe in his words and I respect him. For some reason he just talks to my heart."

While the Ehrlichs attended church yesterday, O'Malley was making his case at Rockville's B'nai Israel Congregation.

In opening remarks, O'Malley said his Irish band once tried to play with a group performing Klezmer, a style of music popular among European Jews. "It came out sounding like a mariachi band," he said.

The mayor then launched into a short but lyrical speech in which he defended multiculturalism - which Ehrlich once decried as `bunk' - and made a plea to avoid the "politics of division and fear."

In response to jabs from Ehrlich running mate Kristen Cox, who attended the forum, he defended his record on crime and education and in turn accused the governor of poorly managing state correctional agencies.

He charged that Ehrlich's cuts to education funding were responsible for growing tuition rates at Maryland colleges.

Delving into national politics, O'Malley said the governor's views are in "lock step" with President Bush.

After his closing remarks, O'Malley received a standing ovation from many audience members.

In addition to Cox, the state disabilities secretary, the mayor was joined at the forum by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin.

The event began with the playing of the Israeli national anthem. Cardin, who is Jewish, covered his head with a yarmulke and reminded the crowd of about 150 that his opponent, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, was not in attendance. Cardin said Steele was trying to avoid debate for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

Organizers of the forum said Steele was invited but declined; the lieutenant governor did not release a public schedule yesterday. "He is not answering the questions," Cardin said.

Cardin talked about Middle East policy, and said Israel is the United States' "only true ally in the Middle East that has Western values."

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