Ehrlich rolls up sleeves
Republican promises Democrats, minorities will get leadership posts; Townsend makes first public comments since defeat
Receptionist Mary Martin hugs Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as he thanks campaign workers at his Towson headquarters. (Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby / November 6, 2002)
Ehrlich's first day after defeating Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend contained a healthy dose of work, including a telephone conversation with Gov. Parris N. Glendening on ways to close a $418 million shortfall in this year's budget, considered the most pressing problem facing the state.
He also sketched the faint outlines of his governing team by announcing that the chief of staff of his congressional office, Steven L. Kreseski, will continue the powerful role in Annapolis, and that a former Glendening economic development chief, James T. Brady, will operate his transition team.
Ehrlich declined to discuss specifics of priorities for the 2003 legislative session or names under consideration for Cabinet posts and other appointments during a noon news conference in Baltimore. But he said he'd dip into the pool of Maryland Democrats - who vastly outnumber Republicans - to carry out his mission of shaking out the cobwebs that have grown in Annapolis during 34 years of Democratic hegemony.
"We meant what we said in this campaign," Ehrlich said. "'Time for a change' means something."
Some of the changes, however, could include familiar faces.
Leading Republicans were discussing the idea of offering Sen. Robert R. Neall, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who switched parties two years ago, the position as head of the state Department of Budget and Management. Considered among the General Assembly's most savvy fiscal minds, Neall would bring instant credibility to any Ehrlich effort to close a projected two-year $1.7 billion budget gap.
Neall, who lost his re-election bid Tuesday, denied interest in the job. "Somebody hasn't come down off their post-election high," he quipped.
Another possibility as budget secretary is Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee who lost in a September primary. Hoffman confirmed her interest yesterday and said some discussions have taken place.
"It would be very nice," she said. "It's something I know about."
Republicans also spoke of offering an unspecified position to House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., the Allegany County Democrat who was passed over by Townsend as a running mate and appeared to lose his re-election bid, though absentee ballots were still uncounted. Taylor did not return calls seeking comment.
Other names circulated yesterday as Ehrlich and his closest advisers faced a happy problem the GOP has not seen since Spiro T. Agnew was elected in 1966: How to distribute the spoils that come with controlling the executive branch of government?
"There's 30 years' worth of patronage out there," said House Minority Leader Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Perry Hall Republican. "The problem is not finding positions. It's finding enough people to fill the positions."
Added Carvel Payne, former head of the state legislative reference department: "There are an awful lot of people out there who thought they were nonpartisan employees. It might be a shock to them to find out they are partisan."
An official in the state comptroller's office estimated that as many as 1,000 high-ranking state employees could be replaced, although it is unlikely such turnover is imminent.
"The man does not want to be a one-term governor," Hoffman said. "He does not want to throw out everybody and make everybody angry. It would be very bad politics."
Despite the potential upheaval that lies ahead, key Democratic legislative leaders pledged yesterday to work with Ehrlich to achieve his agenda.
"The reason Bob Ehrlich was elected was he described himself as a moderate. He appealed to moderate Democrats. And he was able to hold on to his right-wing constituents. If he continues to be a moderate, the state will be governed well," said Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "I pledge to avoid any type of gridlock. I pledge with my Senate leadership to work with him. He made a lot of commitments. I expect him to fulfill them."
In making her first public comments since her concession speech Tuesday night, Townsend today said that she was proud of her campaign and declined to rule out whether she would run for public office again.