Kendel Ehrlich Weighing Run?

Rumors Target Former First Lady As A Prospect In Race For Arundel Executive Or State Senate Seat

August 09, 2009|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

While political junkies gossip about the possibility of a comeback by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., some are also asking: "What about Kendel?"

Kendel Sibiski Ehrlich, the popular former first lady, has long been rumored to be a potential candidate for elected office and remains in the public eye by co-hosting a weekly radio program with her husband, the first Republican governor in a generation in Maryland.

Of late, State House and GOP circles are abuzz with the prospect of Kendel Ehrlich running against Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, who is considered vulnerable after recent controversies, or for the seat of retiring state Sen. Janet Greenip.

Ehrlich insiders dismiss the talk as gossip, and some close associates say they doubt Kendel Ehrlich, a 47-year-old lawyer and mother, would take on a time-consuming campaign and political post that could take her away from her young sons, Drew, 9; and Josh, 4.

Nonetheless, the scuttlebutt persists.

"I hear that rumor on a weekly basis, it seems," said Del. James J. King, an Anne Arundel County Republican, adding that Ehrlich expressed an interest in one day running for office when the two had lunch a couple of years ago. "I don't think she's ever made a secret out of that," he said.

Ehrlich advisers understand why some think she would make a terrific politician. "There's no question people view her as a very successful and dynamic individual who they may view as a great candidate down the road," said Henry Fawell, who acts as a family spokesman. "But this is nothing more than the daily gossip that is currency in Annapolis."

Because neither Ehrlich has given a definitive answer about what they'll do in the 2010 election year, speculation is filling the vacuum as Republican faithful await the couple's next move.

Robert Ehrlich's name recognition and record make him perhaps the most viable GOP candidate in Maryland, with many wondering if he's going to challenge Gov. Martin O'Malley to a rematch next year. Others speculate about a potential return to Congress, a campaign for state comptroller or even a run for a county executive post, though those have residency requirements. The Ehrlichs currently live in Annapolis.

"The rumors are crazy," said James Pelura, chairman of the Maryland GOP, adding that he has urged Ehrlich to make his intentions known. "Republicans across the state are getting impatient."

Ehrlich has been weighing his future in a heavily Democratic state and continues to keep tabs on state issues, periodically meeting with state lawmakers to discuss policy, voter sentiment and the "political landscape," Fawell said. If Ehrlich doesn't run in 2010, a Kendel candidacy would help keep the family name in the public sphere.

Even some Democrats say she would be a natural for public office.

"She's a very attractive candidate," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a leading Democratic figure in the state. "She comes from a fine family. She's well-educated. She has a law degree. And she has a gregarious personality."

Miller added: "She's more than an equal of Governor Ehrlich's."

Kendel Ehrlich serves on the board of directors for Bank Annapolis and talks up conservatives on WBAL for what many refer to as the "Kendel and Bob show" - as opposed to the other way around.

The former first lady also has worked on efforts to open the Maryland Women's Heritage Center and on substance abuse prevention, particularly among teens. She served five years as a public defender in Anne Arundel County and four years as a prosecutor in Harford County's juvenile court system.

But she also has been at the center of controversy. A notable episode was her comment in 2003, the first year of her husband's term, that she wanted to "shoot" pop singer Britney Spears for promoting promiscuity among girls. That sparked global chatter and prompted Spears to respond that the first lady was uptight and needed to have more sex.

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