Accessible Ehrlich Lays Out Positions

By Daniel LeDuc and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 9, 2002; Page AA05

Here's one of the bigger surprises of the Maryland political year so far: U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the leading Republican candidate for governor, thinks Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D)
did something right.

Ehrlich thinks Glendening's signature "smart growth" program, which aims to curb suburban sprawl and preserve open space, is good.

"Those programs work," Ehrlich said. "Smart growth to me is a lot of common sense."

Ehrlich said if he is elected governor, he will continue programs to protect undeveloped land and work to improve inner-city neighborhoods, another component of the governor's
anti-sprawl agenda.

Ehrlich's unexpected praise for a Glendening initiative came during an event that was itself a little surprising: "Burgers with Bob," an on-the-record, no-holds-barred, question-and-answer
session that Ehrlich conducted last week over cheeseburgers with 10 reporters at his campaign headquarters in Towson.

The event was surprising for the marked contrast it painted with the gubernatorial race's front-runner, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), who restricts the press to much more
controlled settings. In on-the-record interviews, she tends to speak cautiously, with frequent interruptions from attentive aides ever-present at her elbow.

Though she has been plotting her bid for governor for more than three years, only in recent months has Townsend attempted one-on-one sessions with reporters. In the last few weeks,
she has met at least three reporters for separate, off-the-record lunches at restaurants near the State House in Annapolis.

Ehrlich has been much more accessible, phoning reporters frequently, hailing them at campaign events and agreeing to many interview requests. He even offered to make Burgers with
Bob -- which was accurately billed as "staff-free" -- a standing feature of the 2002 campaign.

The Republican offered up little news at the meeting, which stretched to nearly two hours. But he clearly gained points with the media for his willingness to engage in a freewheeling
conversation about his candidacy, even if his answers were sometimes strained or incomplete.

Some sound bites from the session:

Ehrlich refused to rule out new taxes. But he said he is "not looking at any tax increase at this time."

Ehrlich labeled the gas tax a "user fee" and said an increase may be necessary to fund transportation projects. Maryland is the only state that funds both highway construction and
mass transit with the proceeds of the gas tax. Glendening had vowed not to raise the 23.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax during his final term.

Ehrlich said he favored another bridge over the Potomac River but said he hasn't decided whether he would support a proposal for a crossing south of Point of Rocks. Maryland
officials have long opposed any bridge south of that community because it would slap a road through preserved land in Montgomery County.

Ehrlich said he has not decided which route he prefers for a new Purple Line on the Metro system in the Washington suburbs. But he said he is inclined to support an outer line, favored
by Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, over an inner line, favored by Glendening. The inner line, Ehrlich said, would not relieve traffic on the Beltway.

Ehrlich called for better drug treatment programs and alternatives to jail that would prevent the state from warehousing its drug addicts in already crowded prisons.

Funding Conundrum

These are the problems you run into when you've got your eye on too many political offices.

C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the Baltimore County executive who had considered a gubernatorial bid but is now running for Congress, issued a mea culpa after he said some supporters
made a mistake when he kicked off his campaign last week.

During an all-day tour of the 2nd Congressional District, his volunteers were passing out "Go Dutch" bumper stickers and brochures touting his record.

So what's wrong with that?

They were paid for with money raised for a state campaign. And when you're running for a federal office, you have to use money designated for a federal campaign.

"The materials were just lying around the office. Some people just handed them out and they shouldn't have," said Mike Davis, a campaign worker.

Ruppersberger has more than $1 million left over from past fundraising efforts, Davis said. The problem is, he can't use it to run for Congress.

He could give it to allies running for local offices, Davis said. But with a primary against Oz Bengur, an investment banker who has already put almost $300,000 of his own money into his
campaign, Ruppersberger hasn't let go of that money yet.

"He could give it back [to the donors] and ask them to recycle it to the federal fund," Davis said.

Ian Stirton, a spokesman for the Federal Elections Commission, could not say whether the commission was looking into the case.

Staff writer Christian Davenport contributed to this report.

                                                 © 2002 The Washington Post Company