A new home in Annapolis
Family: Kendel Ehrlich prepares for the move to Government House, with
plans for a new bathtub, painting and
maybe something plastic for the lawn.
By Sarah Koenig
January 11, 2003
Before even reaching the front door of 4 Ballyhean Court, the Mays Chapel
townhouse with the cream-colored brick and blue trim, a visitor is greeted
by a plastic tricycle, a miniature
John Deere tractor, an excavator and a Tonka scoop.
It looks like a million other suburban Maryland residences that happen
to house a 3 1/2 -year-old boy -- except for the two cars parked out front,
engines running to keep the state
Inside, Kendel Ehrlich is five days shy of becoming Maryland's first
lady. She has packing to do, calls to return, laundry to wash, the parachute
strings of Spiderman and the Green Goblin
to untangle for her son, Drew.
Although she knows a photo- grapher is coming over, she hasn't changed out of her gray sweat pants or fussed with her hair. She just hasn't had time.
She believes this very scene -- the slightly harassed mother, the hastily
prepared peanut butter (and chips) sandwich eaten off a child's paper plate,
the explosion of toys on the floor of
the living room -- is partly why her husband, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., was elected governor.
"People were looking forward to having a couple they could identify
with," she said yesterday. "We're like everybody else who's juggling career
and family, hauling stuff in from the car,
trying to figure out what to have for dinner."
Not for long, though. Once they move into Government House in Annapolis
next month, Kendel Ehrlich, 41, won't have to cook or go grocery shopping
-- gubernatorial perks which
please her mightily.
The couple will spend their first night in the mansion Tuesday, simply to make sure they don't get caught in traffic Wednesday morning and end up late for the inauguration.
Meanwhile, in Annapolis yesterday a truck emblazoned with the cartoon
frog logo of Short Hop Moving Inc. pulled up outside Government House about
8 a.m. and began loading the
possessions of Gov. Parris N. Glendening and his wife, Jennifer Crawford.
Glendening has lived there since taking office in 1995. Crawford moved
in after they married, about a year ago. Movers spent much of the day loading
personal items, including a potted
plant, a king-size mattress and the crib of their baby daughter, Gabrielle. The family is moving to an Annapolis townhouse.
Kendel Ehrlich hasn't talked to any former first ladies about her impending role. In any case, the position has been somewhat fraught with peril in recent history.
Glendening divorced the former first lady, Frances Hughes, and Crawford has stayed almost entirely out of public view.
Hilda Mae Snoops, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's companion, died in 1999 of emphysema.
Gov. Marvin Mandel left his wife, Barbara, for another woman in 1973. For six months, Mrs. Mandel, known as Bootsie, stayed in the governor's mansion, sometimes entertaining there.
Although she hasn't had any first-lady lessons, there is no question
Mrs. Ehrlich knows the basics. She has been a political spouse since 1993,
when her husband was a state delegate.
The next year, he was elected to Congress.
A lawyer, she particularly remembers the orientation for congressional spouses, when the woman running the session said to the group, "If you don't have to work, don't."
"I was one of the only non-child, career people in the room at the time," she said. "Spouses were irrelevant. It was difficult to find your place."
A fully public life
She's sure of it now. Mrs. Ehrlich, a forceful, straightforward and
gregarious woman, has definite ideas about what she wants to do as first
lady, and no qualms about her sudden entry
into a fully public life.
"It's really weird to have people with you all the time," she said of
the security detail that follows all three Ehrlichs everywhere they go.
"And yeah, people take more notice of what you
wear and what you're doing. But I have pretty good thick skin about that, generally speaking."
She will make use of the bully pulpit her position provides to serve
as an advocate for public education and criminal justice reform. Her experience
as a Harford County prosecutor and
Anne Arundel County public defender has made her especially interested in drug treatment, she said. And after losing a brother to colon cancer, Mrs. Ehrlich is also committed to helping
advance hospice care any way she can.
She will do it all within the framework of her husband's policy agenda.
As part of his faith-based initiative, for instance, she would support
churches helping people obtain treatment for
Mrs. Ehrlich is technically on leave from a part-time position negotiating
contracts for Comcast Cable Communications. Although she does not plan
to hold a job while serving as first
lady, she wants to finish one last project for Comcast, training teachers on using computer technology in their classrooms, she said.
Other than that, she will spend time with Drew and work to build the
Republican Party. As she did during the campaign, Mrs. Ehrlich will speak
at GOP dinners and march in parades,
making sure the rank-and-file members don't bask too long in the soft glow of victory.
That aspect of politics is where she and the governor-elect are especially
compatible, she said. "I like the fight," she said. "We're sports people,
and it probably comes from that. We both
really enjoy the competition."
'Not where I am'
What she won't do, she said, is insert herself into policy. She won't
mess with the budget or push for legislation. "If I wanted to be involved
in doing that, then I should run," she said,
"and that's just not where I am."
For now, though, Mrs. Ehrlich has to finish packing. Their four-poster,
king-size bed will be moved to the mansion, along with her husband's large
collection of elephant figurines and
other personal items (such as the signed golf balls encased in glass).
Their new residence will get an overhaul as well. They're adding a bathtub
to the living quarters, and the walls, now gray ("dingy, dingy, dingy,"
she said), will be repainted. The Winnie
the Pooh on Gabrielle Glendening's wall will be painted over, too; Drew wants his room red, Spiderman-style.
Downstairs, "the reception room is really awful, so we're going to redo
that," she said. She will form a committee to work with state historians
to figure out how to redecorate some of the
But mostly, she said, the difference will be one of tone. "I do look
forward to bringing some life to the role," she said, adding that when
she worked across the street from the mansion in
Annapolis, she never saw anyone coming in or out.
She wants to open the house up for "county days," for example, and generally make it more accessible. "We just want to have fun," she said.
And, noted Mrs. Ehrlich, "You might see something plastic on the lawn."
Copyright © 2003, The Baltimore Sun