For Ehrlich And Friends, One Final Celebration
Governor Is Upbeat At Farewell Party

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 15, 2007; B05

TIMONIUM, Md., Jan. 14 -- For a moment here Sunday, it would have been easy to mistake the vanquished for the victor.

Close to 1,500 cheering supporters greeted Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) at the State Fairgrounds, many of them enthusiastically waving "We {heart} Our Gov" signs as he strode on stage in a packed exhibition hall.

But Ehrlich's afternoon stop in Timonium was not part of a victory lap. It was one of his final appearances before ceding the reins of state government to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) at noon Wednesday.

"There's a really big difference in life between losing and being defeated," an upbeat Ehrlich said before recounting some of his administration's accomplishments. He urged supporters to stay involved in politics despite the return of one-party rule to Annapolis.

"I am not going to sugarcoat anything for you," said Ehrlich, the state's first Republican governor in a generation. "It's going to be tough. Hang in there. Compete. Engage. . . . Let the monopoly know you are not defeated."

Ehrlich, who was joined on stage by his parents, wife and two young children, was more circumspect about his future. Aides said he is mulling options. From the stage, he dropped several tantalizing hints, suggesting that the event was "about a thank-you" and "not about a goodbye."

In earlier remarks, Ehrlich's wife, Kendel, was more direct, as is her tendency, telling the crowd: "If I have anything to do with it, public service is not over yet for Bob Ehrlich."

Fliers asking backers for their addresses and encouraging them "to keep in touch" were placed on picnic tables, where the supporters munched on roast beef sandwiches and potato salad and listened to a seven-piece band whose cover songs included the Al Green classic "Let's Stay Together." Full-color 50-page booklets touting Ehrlich's "Leadership for Maryland" were handed out as people left.

Aides said the booklets and Sunday's event were paid for with leftover campaign funds. The event was the biggest splash Ehrlich has made during a very quiet period since losing the November election to O'Malley by 6.5 percentage points.

He was nowhere to be seen Wednesday as the legislature opened its 90-day session with traditional pomp and fanfare. On Thursday, Ehrlich quietly appointed what will probably be the final three judges of his career, naming two for the Circuit Court in Baltimore and one for the Circuit Court in Prince George's County. None was considered controversial.

And Friday, Ehrlich issued his final 17 pardons to people convicted of crimes years ago, bringing the total number of clemency orders during his term to 231, a strikingly high figure for a governor from either party these days.

Work in Ehrlich's office has been winding down for weeks, as aides, many of them headed into unsettled futures, packed boxes.

"The O's and M's and apostrophes are still on the keyboards -- for now," Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver quipped Friday, as she and her colleagues in Ehrlich's press office boxed up their belongings. It was a reference to the closing days of the Clinton administration, when W's were allegedly removed from keyboards in advance of President Bush's arrival.

By last week, government workers were refinishing the walls of the governor's private conference room, where Ehrlich had displayed dozens of plaques and other memorabilia from his more than 20 years in public office. His political career began in the late 1980s when he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates from Baltimore County. Among the featured possessions were an ax, awarded by a firefighters group, and a whip, symbolizing his days as deputy majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ehrlich and his family had planned over the weekend to finish moving out of Government House, the 54-room Georgian-style mansion a stone's throw from the State House. The family has chosen to stay in Annapolis, moving to a new house in a neighborhood near the town's largest shopping mall.

The farewell event had been scheduled for Saturday, but it was pushed back a day once Ehrlich learned it would conflict with the National Football League playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and the city's former team, the Colts, which moved to Indianapolis in 1984. Saturday's contest didn't go the way Ehrlich wanted it to, either.

Supporters, who have had two months to come to terms with Ehrlich's loss, seemed at peace, with many citing the Democrats' nearly 2-to-1 edge in party registration.

Will Commotto, a retired sales representative from Essex, said he came to know Ehrlich through his annual appearances at an Essex event and considered him "just a hell of a good guy."

"I was disappointed," Commotto said, "but life goes on. It's not the end of the world."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company