Church thanks public servants -- even politicians

Ehrlich, local elected officials, candidates honored

August 22, 2010|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

For one day at least, at a church in Dundalk, politician was not a dirty word.

For the sixth straight year, Calvary Baptist Church paid tribute to the work of elected officials and political candidates along with police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers.

The headliner for the event was former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who is seeking to take his old job back from Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley — a no-show. He was joined by county-level politicians, Republicans and Democrats, both officeholders and those who aspire to be, in accepting the thanks of a grateful congregation.

"We have witnessed a miracle — a standing ovation for a politician," Ehrlich exulted after a boisterous welcome from the packed house.

The former governor, who said he was making his fifth appearance at the church's annual Public Servant Appreciation Day, was clearly in friendly territory. In the blocks surrounding the church, his signs appeared to outnumber O'Malley's by roughly 10-1.

While Ehrlich was the only statewide political figure to attend, the pews were filled with other candidates — incumbent Dels. Joseph J. Minnick, John S. Olszewski and Patrick L. McDonough, county Sheriff R. Jay Fisher, four sitting judges and a host of challengers.

All seemed to be enjoying an event at which their political exertions were the subject of praise rather than scorn.

"There are some days when people are even nice to politicians, so I'm happy to reap that moment of glory," said Baltimore County Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, who was making a foray into the east-side turf of his chief rival for the Democratic nomination for county executive, Joseph Bartenfelder. Neither Bartenfelder nor Republican candidate Kenneth S. Holt took part.

Circuit Court Judge S. Ann Brobst, a former prosecutor facing election in November after being appointed to the bench by O'Malley last year, attended along with colleagues Jan M. Alexander, Sherrie R. Bailey and John J. Nagle — also on the ballot this year.

"It's wonderful when people recognize the first responders, their public servants," Brobst said.

In fact, the politicians in the church were far outnumbered by police, firefighters, correctional officers and paramedics in uniform. The message of appreciation was underscored midway through the service when five fire and rescue workers rose in unison and quietly filed out as if they had received an emergency call.

Calvary's pastor, the Rev. Cameron Giovanelli, said the idea of a day to celebrate public service came to him about seven years ago during a conversation with his wife.

"I said, I wonder if there's something our church can do to thank them," Giovanelli said. The pastor said they came up with the idea of a gift certificate to a restaurant in an amount that could pay for a date.

Thus, each public servant who attended was offered a $50 gift certificate donated by the Outback Steakhouse in Canton — a thank-you that some could not accept because of ethics rules, Giovanelli noted.

The public servants there heard a stem-winder of a sermon on the power of prayer.

"You have no right to complain about our government if you have not prayed for our government," Giovanelli preached.

William Cain, a member of the congregation and organizer of the event, said the church had invited all public officials and candidates on a nonpartisan basis — including the governor.

"We've invited Governor O'Malley every year, and every year he's declined," Cain said.

But Cain said the event keeps growing "by leaps and bounds."

"We get a huge turnout every year," he said. "This is one of the biggest days of the year for us."

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