Ehrlich gives Towson U. class his take on leadership

By David Nitkin
Sun Staff

October 28, 2003

Sounding as if he's bracing for another rough legislative session, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told a group of Towson University students yesterday that one job of an effective leader is to keep expectations in check.

"Leaders ... set realistic expectations about people, policies, programs," the governor said yesterday, referring to the goals he hopes to accomplish in the next year. "I'm dealing with a General Assembly that is 2-to-1 Democratic and is dominated by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. ... Once you gauge your expectation level, then you fight to meet it."

Since the end of the legislative session this year, Ehrlich's office has tried to define success on its own terms. Instead of pointing to programs passed, they talk of tax increases thwarted. Yesterday's comments indicate the trend is likely to continue.

Ehrlich has not announced an agenda for the Assembly session that begins in January. But with the $22 billion state budget facing an $800 million revenue gap, there is little money for new initiatives.

The governor's priority this year, a plan to legalize slot machines at racetracks, was killed in a House of Delegates committee. The governor has said he will not push a slots bill again until there is significant evidence that House Speaker Michael E. Busch would support it.

Ehrlich also failed to achieve other goals, such as passage of a gun-crime plan modeled after Virginia's Project Exile.

The governor spoke for an hour yesterday at Richard Vatz's Towson class on persuasion, where he is a regular guest. Ehrlich has addressed the class more than two-dozen times in the past decade, Vatz said.

Entering the lecture hall, the governor threw off his sports coat and breezed past the lectern, talking to students as he walked back and forth along the first row of seats, shirt-sleeves rolled up.

"He's very confident, and he adapts his speech to the students," Vatz said.

Ehrlich said he spent about eight minutes preparing for the class, jotting a list of 10 qualities of leadership on a sheet of paper as he rode to the campus. In addition to setting realistic expectations, he also spoke of resiliency, discipline, risk-taking, charisma and integrity.

Answering a question about rising tuition rates at state universities, Ehrlich said that state assistance was only one component of tuition rates, and that he wanted the Board of Regents to examine organization and management within the system with an eye toward saving money.

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