O'Malley `cherry-picking' Ehrlich's exiles

December 22, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

For the third time this month, Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley filled a key post for his new administration from the ranks of government leaders exiled from Annapolis when Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. came to town four years ago.

Yesterday, O'Malley named T. Eloise Foster - the budget secretary in the last years of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration - to return to her old job.

She follows Tuesday's announcement that John D. Porcari would take up his old job at the head of transportation, and another earlier this month that Joseph C. Bryce would be the governor's chief policy aide and legislative liaison. And more Glendening alumni could be on the way - J. Charles Fox is rumored to be a possible candidate for his old job as the head of the Department of Natural Resources.

The return of the outcast aides illustrates a paradox of the Glendening administration: The governor left office in 2003 with extremely low public approval ratings, but he is regarded by Annapolis insiders as having surrounded himself with talented managers.

O'Malley "is definitely cherry-picking, there's no question," said former Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who worked closely with Foster as chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee. "Someone with the ability to hit the ground running is a good find. I'm sure he's going to have some new people, he's not going to bring back everyone from the Glendening administration, but these were very good choices."

Even one of the Republican leaders in the legislature, Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the minority whip from Southern Maryland, had good things to say about O'Malley's latest choice.

"Eloise Foster is a fine person," O'Donnell said. "I've worked with her ... and I think she'll do a good job."

For O'Malley, an Annapolis outsider looking to make a quick start in the capital, Glendening veterans provide an irresistible pool of experience.

"There are very few people who have so deep an understanding of the state government and the challenges we face," O'Malley said yesterday while announcing Foster's appointment. "We all feel very fortunate she has agreed to come back to public service."

Foster did not leave public service entirely, and neither had the other Glendening aides O'Malley has hired. Although they all left the State House as Ehrlich looked to make an imprint as Maryland's first Republican governor in a generation, Foster, Porcari and Bryce all found public-sector jobs.

Foster served for a time after leaving Annapolis as dean for business affairs and program development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine; Porcari was vice president for administrative affairs at the University of Maryland, College Park; and Bryce was associate vice chancellor for government relations for the University System of Maryland. Bryce and Porcari are taking pay cuts to get back to the State House.

Ehrlich aides are not finding the public-sector opportunities as plentiful in a state so long dominated by Democrats.

But some Republicans are also finding it peculiar that O'Malley would bring back so many key players from an administration that voters ultimately wearied of.

"As he was leaving the door, Gov. Glendening spent all of the money in the state, putting Maryland in the dire condition it was in when Governor Ehrlich took over," Maryland Republican Party spokeswoman Audra Miller said. "Martin O'Malley apparently agrees with the philosophy of Governor Glendening and is surrounding himself with like-minded individuals who spent the taxpayers deeply, deeply into the red."

O'Malley and Foster said yesterday that her primary mission will be dealing with a large gap between projected revenues and spending expected to develop in coming years.

Ehrlich came into office with a promise to rein in spending in Annapolis, but due largely to a landmark education funding formula that he supported, he increased expenditures faster in his term than Glendening did in either of his.

Thanks to a booming economy, Ehrlich produced surpluses in the last two years of his term, which makes Foster's task easier for the budget O'Malley must submit in January, though cuts may still be necessary. But Foster said the problem will grow severe since deficits of $1 billion or more a year have been projected through the end of O'Malley's term.

andy.green@baltsun.com

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