Democrats storm Ehrlich stronghold

O'Malley workers accuse governor of neglecting Isabel victims

November 03, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,sun reporter

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's campaign is making a push for votes in eastern Baltimore County, the heart of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s base, accusing him of ignoring the area's needs after Tropical Storm Isabel flooded hundreds of homes in 2003.

There are signs that the Ehrlich administration takes seriously the possibility for bad publicity from Isabel victims. E-mails obtained by The Sun show that Ehrlich aides made a push to placate a group of Isabel victims before a rally they held in front of the State House late last month.

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., an O'Malley ally, has bought radio time for an ad criticizing Ehrlich's response to Isabel, and O'Malley volunteers have been knocking on doors in eastern Baltimore County to raise the issue with voters.

"In the three years since my criticism of the insurance companies and FEMA's failure following Isabel, Governor Ehrlich has returned none of my phone calls asking for help for Baltimore County," Smith says in the ad. "Not one."

Though the plight of Isabel victims largely died down after the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to review flood insurance claims in 2004, a group of victims in the east county is still struggling to rebuild.

With the help of Steve Kanstoroom, an Isabel victim from Talbot County, several of them arranged a demonstration outside the State House on Oct. 25 in hopes of pressuring Ehrlich to write a letter to President Bush asking for help.

The Ehrlich administration sent a letter to FEMA officials instead. In an Oct. 24 e-mail, Ehrlich's Washington Policy Director Thomas J. Hance wrote that he had called several of the victims who were planning to come to the demonstration and discovered that they were disappointed by the administration's handling of the issue.

"I think my countermessage neutralized them for the most part, but I expect Kanstoroom will come up with additional criticisms," Hance wrote.

He went on to list a series of talking points for administration officials to use when meeting with victims at the demonstration in order to quell their concerns.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor has been and is committed to helping Isabel victims.

"The vast majority of citizens impacted by Isabel have recovered, thanks to the governor's hard work," Fawell said. "Gov. Ehrlich continues to help those who need assistance, rather than using them as political fodder like County Executive Smith."

Bob Valentin, an Isabel victim from Chase who was contacted by Hance, said he feels like the governor has no intention of helping.

"I think he's more concerned about working with the White House and less worried about what our interests are here," Valentin said. "As a registered Republican, I'm just devastated."

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