October 19, 2002
Author: NANCY KERCHEVAL Daily Record Business Writer
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, a beautiful young public
defender with golden blond hair went to a polling location in Timonium
to cast her ballot in the
Standing outside was a handsome young politician - the former captain
of the Princeton football team - who was meeting and greeting anyone who
would give him
the time of day.
In an effort to avoid the handsome young politician, the young public
defender - only three years out of University of Baltimore Law School -
diverted her attention
to a friend. Eventually the duo became a trio as the politician entered the conversation.
Not long afterward, the politician and the public de fender met again
- this time at a health club in Annapolis. He had clerked at the public
therefore, they had mutual friends.
As with all fairy tales, the two married three years later, had a child
and lived happily ever after - at least so far, de spite the pressures
and time constraints of political
Kendel Ehrlich had second thoughts about marrying a state delegate intent
on entering Congress. In fact, she broke off their engagement for a brief
period while she
decided if she really wanted to live in the fast lane of meet and greets, campaign stops and dried chicken dinners.
But once she committed, she found herself engulfed by a whirlwind that started four months after her wedding day and hasn't stopped since.
It was November 1993 - the Ehrlichs were hitched in July - when Helen
Bentley announced her intentions to run for governor, leaving vacant the
Ehrlich stepped up to the plate. He was ready to go to Washington, hit the big time.
So, during the first year of their marriage, while other couples are
stealing away to cozy resorts and toasting their monthly anniversaries
with champagne and
chocolate dipped strawberries, the Ehrlichs were consumed by campaigning.
"I learned by trial by fire," said Kendel, who was a felony trial lawyer. "We ran that first campaign out of the condo we lived in."
As the campaign became more intense, Ehrlich quit the practice of law
to concentrate on the race. That left Kendel to carry the family and the
expenses of a
campaign on her public defender's salary.
"I was the sole source of income and, trust me, when that campaign was
over, we were busted," she said. "We lived in a ground-floor condominium.
I wanted to get
out and it took us three years."
The election won, Kendel discovered it was an adjustment being a professional woman and a congressman's wife. But it was even more difficult being an attorney.
"Being a lawyer is probably the worst profession," she said. "It lends
itself to more conflicts than any other. You just have to be careful of
why people want to hire
She left the public defender's office in 1995, spent a few years with
Youth Services International of Owings Mills, the Law Offices of T. Joseph
Touhey in Glen
Burnie and the Harford County State's Attorney's Office, which allowed her to work part-time.
For the past year, she has worked part-time for Comcast Cable Communications,
writing the contracts between Comcast and owners of multi-unit dwellings
want the service installed. Comcast gives her the clients, she works on her own time.
Whether she continues the work with Comcast if her husband becomes governor is still up in the air, she says. In fact, she has no plans past Nov. 5.
"I have no idea what my life will be like - but that in and of itself
has become a skill - not knowing where my future is," she said. "It's an
adjustment for a person who
goes to law school and sets goals and reaches them to have this total flexibility about the future - the freedom you have when you don't know what the future is going
to be. It takes a long time to gain real confidence."
The gubernatorial race is taking tolls on Kendel that the congressional races never did. Voters often don't recognize their own congressman - let alone the spouse.
But as the televised campaign commercials have hit the state's airways, Kendel has found herself in the spotlight.
"People start recognizing you throughout the state. That element of
anonymity changes. We have had a very normal life in Congress. When you
run for something
statewide, there's more notoriety, less privacy," she said.
Kendel is the epitome of a candidate's wife. She sacrifices everything
to be by his side, including showing up for a night of rock 'n' rolling
on stage not long after back
But she's not sure what's ahead for her - especially considering her lifestyle. "I'm kind of free reign. That makes everyone nervous."
She has never had a lot of people surrounding her. "We don't have handlers.
We don't have drivers. My house isn't big enough for a nanny. My neighbors
you I live normally. I'm truckin' stuff in from Wal-Mart just like them.
"Winning the governor's race would be a different lifestyle. The biggest
change is privacy and I view myself as being the protector of that - particularly
But Drew, who was born on his parents' anniversary and his grandfather's
birthday, is anything but camera-shy. While the Ehrlichs don't push him
into the limelight,
neither do they shield him from the publicity.
"He does know the stickers say daddy for governor. He has a little sense
of things. Does he really know? Probably not, but he has a personality
that he hasn't met a
crowd or camera he doesn't like. He is a very verbal child and very out going child. I really don't watch the public exposure. As much exposure as the family gets, he
gets," she said.
But as she tries to keep up with her campaign schedule - attending events in place of her husband - at the back of her mind is how fast can she get home to Drew.
And, although she's not making plans for living in the mansion, she
does admit she wonders where Drew would play. And, she insists they will
have a presence on
the streets of the capital.
"I lived in Annapolis and I worked in that courthouse on Court Circle.
I went past that house all the time. The only thing I think about is bringing
life to that house
again," she said.
She wonders if she'll be able to go to the grocery store with Drew. Will security let her drive? "It's just quirky questions I think about," she said.
"But it will be nice to have a big wheel around and I happen to love
Annapolis. We will be very visible in that town. We're selling our house
and moving. We're
moving to the mansion. We're going to live there. I don't care what it looks like."
And she'll probably have to wait to become the First Lady to learn the layout of the mansion. The Glendening administration never invited the Ehrlichs to dinner.
"I'm shocked," she jests.
Kendel and Bob put their heads together when its time to make a decision about the next step in his political career.
Leaving the safety of the House was a big step for her husband, she said.
"It was a very difficult decision to leave the House. Bob has loved
being a member of Congress and he's very proud of it And I have to say
I'm in awe of it when I
have to be over there. It's nothing to sneeze at to give up what we believed was a safe seat to do what many people thought was crazy. But it's not so crazy right
now. The polls are neck and neck."
As for her role: "I am an assistant in the political world of Bob Ehrlich,
but not the policy world and that's good for me. I'm fine with that If
I wanted to do policy, rd
run myself, but we're not doing that. Two lawyers in one house is enough; you don't want two politicians."
Her husband, she said, believes anyone who wants to make a change in government has to become an executive to execute the plan.
"My assessment in advising him was only don't be 10 years down the road and think that was your time," she said.
"That was my concern. My philosophy in life is live it now, live it to the fullest, go for it."
She confesses to her excitement at being invited to the White House. It's still a thrill. She remembers the invitation for dessert to meet the Polish president.
"Sen. Miksulski said Bob were hanging on my coattails again. She figured we were invited because I'm Polish," said Kendel, whose maiden name is Sibiski.
Besides her professional career, Kendel has focused on philanthropy.
"I enjoy raising money for things I believe in. There's a lot of generosity
out there. It just comes
down to asking for it. When you believe in it, it's easier."
She's been president of the board of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
- a venture that is close to her heart in that she has a friend with CF.
She also takes a seat at the
Essex Community College foundation board and the University of Maryland Pediatric Hospital board.
But while she commits herself completely to the fundraising goals of
the institutions, she puts her foot down when it comes to meetings. Give
her the goal the time
period and shell get it done, but don't expect her to sit through meetings.
"I tell everybody whenever I get involved with something 'I am a sales
personality, not a meeting person. Just tell me what I need to do.' I don't
like meetings. Take
that for what it's worth," she said. "If I am committed to you, I will do the work, but it has to be on my terms."
Until the election is over, Kendel just tries to keep her schedule straight, and her time free enough to be Drew's mother.
By the way, back in 1990, even though she gave Ehrlich the cold shoulder at the polling place, she admits she checked the paper the next day to see if he had won.
Copyright, 2002, The Daily Record (Baltimore, MD)
Record Number: 0F5E49055311EE8B