O'Malley Reaches Out to Assembly and Washington Suburbs

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 9, 2006; A48

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley pledged yesterday to mend the rift between the General Assembly and the governor's office and to represent the entire state, including the Washington suburbs instrumental to his victory.

But even as O'Malley's victory in the governor's race brings Annapolis back to one-party rule, fellow Democrats say he could meet resistance unless he broadens his administration beyond his loyalists and fleshes out his policy planks.

"We have a lot of important work to do in bringing people together in the spirit in which it is required for these next four challenging years, " O'Malley said at an afternoon news conference.

Three hours earlier, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had called to concede in Tuesday's election and offer transition help.

O'Malley will arrive in Annapolis pledging to be a consensus-builder after four fractious years of divided government under Ehrlich, the state's first Republican governor in a generation. O'Malley will have to contend with intraparty squabbles over such issues as the legalization of slot-machine gambling and a bid to raise the tobacco tax once the Democrats' Election Day euphoria starts to fade.

During his tenure at city hall, O'Malley made his share of enemies, including several of Baltimore's old guard. State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D), the last Baltimore mayor elected governor, was among those who thought O'Malley did not show them proper deference.

But by most accounts, O'Malley enjoyed a productive working relationship with members of the City Council, from whose ranks he rose to mayor. In that respect, O'Malley could prove a good fit in the governor's role, said council member Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. (D).

"Obviously, there's been a lot of acrimony in Annapolis," Mitchell said. "Voters have said they're tired of pointing fingers and want people to start solving problems again."

O'Malley will be a newcomer in a town inhabited by a pair of well-established personalities who preside over the legislature's two chambers. It remains to be seen how they will get along.

"I think there will be a different mentality here," House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said yesterday. "I don't think the Senate or the House will be a rubber stamp for anyone. We're looking for an administration that we can reach a consensus with."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who has presided over his chamber for two decades, said recently that he, too, expects more productive relations with O'Malley than with Ehrlich but said there is certain to be some "friction" born of personality.

Busch has demonstrated in his shorter tenure that he can be unyielding on issues of principle, most notably efforts in recent years to legalize slots.

O'Malley has supported slots only at racetracks. But the expansion of legalized gambling was a shared, but unfulfilled, priority for Miller and Ehrlich.

It was a subject O'Malley was not eager to talk about yesterday. At his news conference, he fielded questions for several minutes after an aide said "last question," calling it quits only after he got one on slots. "Oh my goodness," the mayor said, "we should have ended." Smiling, he left the room without answering.

O'Malley was joined by his wife, his oldest son, 8-year-old William, and his running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown (D-Prince George's). O'Malley's selection a year ago of Brown, who served as majority whip in the House, was seen as a way to reach out to the legislature and the Washington region.

Miller said O'Malley would be well-served by showing the same reach in his Cabinet and staff appointments. O'Malley's seven years as mayor and his campaign were guided by several long-term loyalists, derided in political circles as the "Irish Mafia," and several of his top aides are expected to join him.

During his news conference, O'Malley pledged to appoint an administration that reflects the state's diversity, including its geographic diversity, as part of an effort "to recruit the most professional and committed people we can."

"The bottom line is that Montgomery and Prince George's counties were instrumental in his election victory, and I think he's going to take that into an account," said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery).

What an O'Malley governorship will mean for the Washington region beyond that remains somewhat unclear.

Baltimore issues dominated the campaign as Ehrlich and O'Malley's Democratic primary challenger, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, relentlessly attacked the city's crime and low-performing schools to try to erode the mayor's statewide support.

O'Malley issued a raft of policy proposals, few, if any, of which spoke directly to needs in a particular region.

On one of the Washington area's most pressing issues, transportation, O'Malley reiterated support yesterday for constructing the intercounty connector, moving ahead with Metro's proposed Purple Line and finding a dedicated funding source for the Metro system.

Beyond that, specific transportation proposals are not likely to surface for several months. O'Malley has promised to convene a panel of experts and legislators to reevaluate the state's transportation priorities for the coming decade.

He said he will focus in his first legislative session on budget priorities. Among them: increasing money for school construction and stem-cell research, holding the line on college tuition and creating a statewide affordable housing fund.

O'Malley said another early focus will be to find efficiencies in government. O'Malley has promised to bring CitiStat, a performance-measurement program he ushered into city hall that has won national plaudits, to the State House.

Annapolis will also watch as O'Malley forges relationships with Comptroller-elect Peter Franchot and Attorney General-elect Douglas F. Gansler, Montgomery County Democrats.

Franchot campaigned with a promise that he would serve as a counterweight to the governor, whether he is a Republican or Democrat. Franchot's opposition to slots and his support for a $1 increase in the state tobacco tax to fund health care initiatives put him at odds with O'Malley.

Gansler predicted smooth relations with the new governor, noting common views on environmental issues and public safety. Still, some Democrats said they would not be surprised if O'Malley and Gansler occasionally butted heads given their ambitions.

Staff writers Matthew Mosk and Steve Vogel contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company