Mayor hitches onto transit issues for votes

Ehrlich side scoffs at few details

governor presses fiscal message

Campaign Day

Maryland Votes 2006

October 25, 2006|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun reporter

NEW CARROLLTON -- Seeking political mileage from Maryland's long commuting times, Mayor Martin O'Malley proposed a transportation plan yesterday that he said would emphasize Smart Growth principles, promote public transit and reduce congestion on the highways.

After spending the early morning rush hour shaking hands with commuters at the Metro station here, O'Malley held a news conference where he criticized Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for what he called a "knee-jerk opposition to rail" in mass transit projects.

Ehrlich, he said, "consistently tells us we should be satisfied with a fast bus," O'Malley said.

By focusing on transportation, the Democrat was attempting to make inroads on an issue Ehrlich has sought for the past four years to claim as his own.

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan derided the O'Malley program for what he called a lack of specifics.

"There is no plan. This is filled with complaints, with whining, with wishes and hopes and prayers, but no plan," Flanagan said.

The transportation event was the first in a series of campaign stops by major candidates yesterday, which included an effort by Ehrlich to illustrate the state's fiscal health and a luncheon meeting of public employee retirees that drew several Democratic nominees.

In 2004, Ehrlich narrowly won General Assembly approval of what Flanagan called a $238 million-a-year package of new transportation revenue -- largely based on an increase in vehicle registration fees.

The package helped replenish a Transportation Trust Fund left weakened by Gov. Parris N. Glendening's reluctance to seek new revenues and depleted by Ehrlich's diversion of $300 million to balance the state budget in 2003.

Yesterday, O'Malley criticized Ehrlich's decision to dip into transportation funds to deal with the 2003 budget shortfall the governor inherited. "Our opponent has spent the last four years robbing Peter to pay Paul," O'Malley said.

He accused Ehrlich of making a series of bad policy choices that contribute to congestion.

O'Malley said that if he takes office, he will immediately order an audit of the state's transportation resources. He said he would follow that up by naming a commission to develop a 10-year funding plan for transportation.

O'Malley said that before proposing new transportation taxes or fees, he would first seek ways to manage government better -- "maybe even downsizing some of the upper management and flunkies and cronies Bob Ehrlich has brought to government."

One area in which O'Malley insisted he would do a better job than Ehrlich is land-use planning. He said that Ehrlich's policies, including the elimination of Glendening's Office of Smart Growth, had contributed to sprawl and worsened the congestion problem. The mayor pledged to restore that office.

Flanagan dismissed O'Malley's call for an audit, saying that everything the mayor wants to know is in the six-year spending plan just released. He said the call for a 10-year plan shows O'Malley's ignorance of transportation, contending that planning that far out will lead to inaccurate revenue and cost projections.

Ehrlich went fishing for votes yesterday at the Bass Pro Shop at Arundel Mills mall as he launched a planned series of events to highlight what he calls his successes and O'Malley's failures -- focusing on the candidates' records of fiscal management and job creation.

"The days of tax and spend and just worry about it later are done," Ehrlich said.

The event marked the debut of a new slogan ("A Tale of Two Records") and a new logo (a color photo of a smiling Ehrlich on one side and a black-and-white picture of a frowning O'Malley on the other).

Ehrlich said O'Malley's record is one of "taxes and taxes and more regulation and just blame George Bush for everything."

The midafternoon rally drew about 30 people, many of whom were Republican politicians or workers for Ehrlich's administration or campaign. But he did strike a chord with some other members of the crowd.

One man yelled, "Go get 'em, Bob," and another interrupted the governor's remarks by shouting, "You've got my vote, Governor, and I'm a Democrat."

Ehrlich smiled and replied, "Raise your hand if you're a Democrat. Everybody!"

After some prodding, the man who had called to Ehrlich raised his hand. The only other hand aloft belonged to Ehrlich's communications director, Paul Schurick.

No details have been completed for any other "Tale of Two Records" events.

At a union-sponsored luncheon yesterday, retired members of the American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees announced their support for O'Malley and the other Democratic candidates running statewide and pledged to staff phone banks and distribute campaign literature to ensure their election.

"Our endorsements aren't just smoke and mirrors -- they mean something," said Lee Saunders, executive assistant to AFSCME's international president.

There are about 4,000 AFSCME retirees in Maryland, union officials said.

Sun reporters Andrew Green and Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

Candidates today

O'Malley -- 7:30 a.m., waving to commuters with Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer at intersection of Aris T. Allen/Forest Drive and Chinquapin Round Road in Anne Arundel County; 11:30 a.m., endorsement event, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 734, 1202 Ridgely St., Baltimore.

Ehrlich -- Public schedule not available.

Cardin, Steele -- 2 p.m., attend Senate debate, NewsChannel 8, Arlington, Va.; debate airs on NewsChannel 8 at 4 p.m. and on Maryland Public Television at 7 p.m.; 4:15 p.m., attend candidate forum, Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations, Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, 700 Aliceanna St.

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