An executive decision

Governor's wife says the time has come to sell the O'Malley home in Baltimore

March 21, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

For sale (maybe): Brick 2 story, 4 BR Arcadia home w/basement and deck, room for four kids, two dogs, a judge and the governor.

Two months into his term, Gov. Martin O'Malley has been told, it seems, that the time has come to sell the family's Walther Avenue home in Baltimore.

The first family has been living more or less full time at the governor's mansion in Annapolis since January, and O'Malley said his wife, Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley, is pushing to sell their home of 12 years.

"Whatever Mrs. O'Malley says," the Democratic governor said yesterday. "That's what she's saying these days."

Though famous for grilling bureaucrats on the minutiae of government programs, O'Malley seemed not to know much about the details of his household.

"You know, we all have bosses," he said after being asked about the possible sale at a news conference. "She really does manage those things. I don't. You know, I sleep where the family sleeps, and she takes care of that and tells me where to go."

O'Malley said he wasn't sure whether she had put the house on the market or about the timetable for the endeavor.

"I don't know. I guess it's until somebody offers to buy it," he said. "I haven't done this for a while."

Indeed, the O'Malleys have lived in their Northeast Baltimore home since 1995, back when they had only two children and the 1,850-square-foot home was a lot less crowded than in his final days as mayor.

The family has considerably more space now -- Government House has 52 rooms, with servants, state troopers and a staff of cooks.

The O'Malleys paid $119,000 for their Baltimore house, according to state records, and the home and lot are assessed for tax purposes at $238,650. Records of recent sales show neighboring homes are now going for up to double what the O'Malleys paid for theirs.

Greg Moses, a real estate agent with ReMax in Baltimore, said the O'Malleys' home won't be tough to sell. The neighborhood boasts lots of homeowners and a mix of families, seniors and singles.

"It's definitely a nice area, an area that has been pretty stable over the years," he said. "It has had less challenges than a lot of other neighborhoods in Baltimore. ... There's a lot of pride in ownership, and when you drive by, it shows through."

Homes in the neighborhood are large by Baltimore standards, many with four or five bedrooms, two bathrooms and nice yards.

Moses said recent home sales in the O'Malleys' neighborhood range between $280,000 and $325,000. And buyers are snapping up houses quickly, with homes selling on average 60 days after being listed, he said. Some sold within three days, he said.

"For sure, because it was the mayor's house, that would add some value," said Moses. "At least for some people."

O'Malley's predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., sold his Mays Chapel rowhouse when he and his family moved to Annapolis. Other governors have kept their homes -- Parris N. Glendening lived in Prince George's County with his family for much of his first term, and William Donald Schaefer still owns his house in Baltimore.

There's some precedent to political wives running the show when it comes to real estate -- Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler says his wife, an attorney and author, bought a new house while he was on the campaign trail last fall.

The O'Malleys' decision took somewhat more consideration because of the first lady's day job. Although the rule hasn't always been observed, Maryland's constitution requires the governor to live in Annapolis. But district judges also are required to live in the jurisdictions where they preside, a conundrum the framers of Maryland's constitution almost certainly didn't consider.

Fortunately for the O'Malleys, though, Maryland case law has generally given a liberal interpretation to the term residency.

After O'Malley won the governor's race, his chief counsel, Ralph S. Tyler, wrote to Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn of the District Court of Maryland that the first lady intended to stay on the bench.

"Judge O'Malley's intent to maintain her domicile in Baltimore City is not inconsistent with the expectation that she will spend substantial amounts of her non-work time in Annapolis, including living in the Governor's Mansion, with her husband and children," Tyler wrote.

Legal experts -- including Joseph F. Murphy Jr., chief judge of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals -- said at the time that the law would be on Judge O'Malley's side, even if the family sells its home in Baltimore.

Residency, it seems, is a state of mind. For example, Theodore R. McKeldin was allowed to run for Baltimore mayor in 1958 after two terms as governor even though he had been living in Annapolis the whole time. The courts judged that since he had always intended to return to Baltimore, McKeldin's eight-year stint in a city 35 miles to the south didn't count.

O'Malley, a native of Montgomery County, said he and his wife consider themselves Baltimoreans.

"In our state, your residence is where you intend to reside, and that's pretty much settled law," O'Malley said. "However grateful we are for the temporary abode here, we fully intend to remain citizens of the city of Baltimore and will one day be back there.

"Maybe sooner than we imagined," he joked, "depending on how things go."

andy.green@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Kelly Brewington contributed to this article.

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