Ehrlichs host thank-you bash for hundreds of the faithful

Governor lists accomplishments, urges group not to give up

January 15, 2007|By Chris Emery | Chris Emery,SUN REPORTER

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. received a rock star's welcome yesterday from the still-faithful - people who were delighted when he won election in 2002 and deeply disappointed by his loss in November to Martin O'Malley.

Packed into an exhibition hall at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, hundreds of the outgoing governor's devotees, many of whom had volunteered in his re-election campaign, cheered and waved signs reading "We Love Our Gov!"

Joined on stage by family and friends, Ehrlich thanked the crowd for backing him and outlined what he considered the key accomplishments of his Republican administration, including education, environmental, and transportation initiatives.

He also acknowledged collective disappointment among his supporters that Baltimore's mayor would be taking over Wednesday, putting both the executive and legislative branches of the state government firmly under Democratic control.

"I know what you're hearing and reading is distressing," Ehrlich said. "This is going to be a tough road to watch and listen as things unfold in Annapolis."

After explaining he had received e-mails from conservatives so displeased by the election results that they had considered leaving Maryland, Ehrlich urged patience. "Do not give up on Maryland," he said. "Do not be defeated. I'm going to ask you to compete with me in order the save this state."

Ehrlich said the main reason he threw the free event, which was paid for with campaign funds and included food and live music, was to thank those who were key to his political success as a congressman and governor.

Originally scheduled for Saturday, the event was pushed back a day so the governor and likely many of his supporters could attend or watch the Ravens' playoff game.

At the party, Christmas ornaments in three patterns commissioned by Ehrlich's wife, Kendel, were sold for $10 each to raise money for portraits of the couple to hang in the State House. Terry Ferguson of Annapolis, who bought a three-ornament set, said she thought Ehrlich had done a terrific job balancing the state budget and protecting the Chesapeake Bay.

"I'm a huge fan," she said. "He's very approachable; he feels like one of us."

She described Ehrlich's election loss as "the end of the world as we know it" and blamed what she saw as biased media coverage and obstructionist strategies by Democratic leadership in the General Assembly. She cited past legislative battles over allowing slot machines in the state as an example of Democratic legislators undermining the Ehrlich administration.

"You watch - we'll get slots now that O'Malley is governor," she said, echoing comments of several others there. "They couldn't allow them when Ehrlich was in because they didn't want him to accomplish anything."

Attendees received a glossy booklet outlining what Ehrlich sees as his major accomplishments. It highlights his work on school funding, the Intercounty Connector highway project, reducing pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay, establishing the state's Department of Disabilities and balancing the state budget. The first chapter is titled, "Making History."

Rodney E. Galles of Millersville said he thought Ehrlich would be remembered as a good leader who helped create a more balanced state government. "It was nice to have someone willing to wield the veto pen and say no to new taxes," said Galles, who attended the party with his wife, Margaret.

The couple said they were elated when Ehrlich became the first Republican governor in Maryland since 1966. "I couldn't believe it," Rodney Galles said. "We almost felt like we had to go outside and cheer."

Despite being registered Democrats, Mike and Barbara Takesian of Rosedale said they have supported Ehrlich since he represented Maryland in Congress. "We think he did a lot for the state," Mike Takesian said. "He always just seemed to be a down-to-earth person."

Takesian said he thinks Maryland politics hasn't heard the last of Ehrlich. "He's competent," Takesian said. "I want to see what he'll do."

In a recent interview with The Sun, Ehrlich said that after leaving office he will probably go to work for a law firm and might start a consulting firm with some of his staffers. Speaking to the crowd yesterday, however, Kendel Ehrlich hinted that her husband's political career is not ending.

"If I have anything to do with it, public service is not over for Bob Ehrlich," she said, drawing thunderous applause. "Someone famous said `I'll be back,' and he will."

chris.emery@baltsun.com

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