O'Malley chooses health, MDE heads

Colmers, Wilson latest Cabinet picks

January 11, 2007|By Andrew A. Green and Tom Pelton | Andrew A. Green and Tom Pelton,Sun reporters

Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley plans to announce today his nominees to head two key state agencies, once again choosing veterans of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration to run the health and environment departments.

Sources close to the O'Malley administration confirmed yesterday that John M. Colmers, the former head of the Maryland Health Care Commission, will be the nominee for health and mental hygiene; and Shari T. Wilson, who helped lead Glendening's signature Smart Growth initiative, will be the governor-elect's pick for the Department of the Environment.

Both of the other department heads O'Malley has announced -- John D. Porcari in transportation and T. Eloise Foster in budget and management -- also worked for Glendening.

With his inauguration less than a week away, O'Malley has named just five of 21 Cabinet secretaries, a pace that has led to some grumbling among legislative leaders. Cabinet secretaries must be confirmed by the state Senate.

Colmers was named chairman of CareFirst of Maryland Inc. three years ago in a General Assembly-ordered shake-up of the health insurance giant prompted by the company's efforts to convert to for-profit status. Critics said the proposal would have resulted in windfalls for company executives.

"Public service is an honorable calling and I'm very happy to be given this opportunity at this point in time, with health care being such an important topic," Colmers, 53, of Baltimore said yesterday.

Colmers had a two-decade career in health care reform in Maryland. In 1993, then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer named him head of the new Health Care Access and Cost Commission, where he served through most of Glendening's two terms.

"He intimately knows health care delivery in the state of Maryland, as well or better than anybody else," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch. "They were very fortunate to get him. It's a great selection."

Since 2004, Wilson has been a top deputy of Baltimore Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler focusing on land use. Tyler is the head of O'Malley's transition committee.

"I'm really excited -- this is a great opportunity, and I'm sure this administration will do a lot of great things," said Wilson, 45, an environmental law attorney and adjunct instructor at the Johns Hopkins University.

She served for seven years as a high-ranking official in Glendening's Department of the Environment, working as director of policy management, coordinator of Smart Growth programs and administrator of projects to redevelop contaminated industrial sites.

"I belive we'll see a much stronger emphasis on protecting the environment and the health of the citizens of Maryland," said Erin Fitzsimmons, Chesapeake regional director for the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, who resigned as Baltimore health commissioner to run for Congress last year, publicly expressed his interest in the health job after O'Malley won the governor's race. The governor-elect hinted yesterday that he might have another spot for Beilenson in his administration.

"Peter's a good person, a very talented guy, so stay tuned," O'Malley said.

andy.green@baltsun.com tom.pelton@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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