Mysterious casting call goes out for Bob Ehrlich ad

Third-party ad? Political dirty trick? No one claims call for actors

October 13, 2010

A document making the rounds in Maryland political circles would appear to be a casting call for a Bob Ehrlich campaign ad.

One reason there's interest in that: The spot would be shot in California, and Ehrlich has campaigned on the need to bolster Maryland's film industry.

Another reason: Among the parts to be cast are Homeless Person #1 and Homeless Person #2, bringing to mind the last time Ehrlich went out of state for homeless people. In 2006, his campaign bused them in from Philly on Election Day to hand out literature that suggested — falsely — that Ehrlich was backed by several black Democratic leaders.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the casting call did not come from the Ehrlich campaign.

"There's nobody shooting a TV ad for us in California," he said.

Russ Schriefer of Stevens and Schriefer Group, the Washington firm that has been doing all of Ehrlich's advertising since 1994, agreed.

It's possible that a third party was doing an ad on Ehrlich's behalf. If that's the case, the campaign could not know about it ahead of time because of rules against coordinating with outside groups. But one of the most likely third-party suspects, the Republican Governors Association, told me the casting call wasn't for their ad.

"All our ads are voice-overs," said RGA spokesman Chris Schrimpf.

The casting call was issued by Los Angeles-based Breakdown Express at the request of casting director Aaron Kennedy. He made the request late on a Sunday evening, Oct. 3. Twelve hours later, Kennedy called to say he'd submitted the wrong copy and wanted it pulled, said Breakdown spokeswoman Jenna Pass.

Kennedy did not return my calls, but I reached Azel James, listed as director on the casting call. He said he often works with Kennedy, but not on political ads.

"We try to stay out of that scene," James said. "I wouldn't have done that."

Seems odd that the purported director wasn't on board. Could the whole thing be some sort of political dirty trick on the part of Dems, trying to make Ehrlich look bad? But it seems like a lot of trouble for something that might only cost Ehrlich the key-grip vote.

"It's the case of the disappearing political ad," said Breakdown president Gary Marsh.

With so many campaign ads already on the airwaves, we should consider that a blessing as well as a mystery.

Turnabout

One of the more surprising moments in the first gubernatorial debate had the right-of-center Republican fretting over civil rights and the left-leaning Democrat defending zero-tolerance policing.

Ehrlich: "A lot of innocent people were arrested and thrown behind bars, and then they were let out a few hours later for no apparent reason. So that's your record, let's live with it."

Martin O'Malley: "There's a lot more people living because of it."

O'Malley didn't take issue with Ehrlich's characterization that lots innocent people were arrested when he was mayor of Baltimore; he just said it worked.

"You have to acknowledge where Baltimore City was in 1999," O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese told me later. "At the time, it was the right thing to do, and it did work to get people off the corners and it did save lives."

In a governor's race that will likely be won or lost in the 'burbs, it might not hurt O'Malley to be tough on criminals — or tough on the noncriminals who got locked up for petty quality-of-life offenses like littering.

But I wondered how the exchange went over with the people who took O'Malley to court over his police practices. In June, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People got an $870,000 settlement out of the city.

Turns out they had strikingly different takes on O'Malley's debate-night defense.

"I think it's pathetic and just completely depressing," said David Rocah, staff attorney with ACLU of Maryland. "The policy has been repudiated by a later police chief, and after it was repudiated, crime went down at a faster rate."

Not that Rocah had kind words for Ehrlich.

"There's something frankly ridiculous about Ehrlich casting himself as the defender of civil liberties. Has everyone forgotten it was his state police that engaged in blatantly improper spying on political activists in Maryland?"

As for the NAACP, Marvin "Doc" Cheatham had a lot to say when the case was settled. "Due to the arrogance of a mayor and his administration, hundreds if not thousands of Baltimore City men were unconstitutionally arrested, not charged with anything, but left in Central Booking with an arrest record," Cheatham, then president of the NAACP's Baltimore branch, told the Afro newspaper in June.

Cheatham has suddenly mellowed on the topic. He saw the debate and heard O'Malley's defense, but had little to say.

"It didn't really register that much to me," he said. "I guess if I was gloater, I could say something."

laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

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