Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. joked at a Glen Burnie fund-raiser last month
that in honor of his wife's birthday, he was going to get her a "big new
house in Annapolis."
Last week he succeeded, becoming the first Republican in decades to
win the Governor's Mansion.
Now, as Governor-elect Ehrlich prepares for his administration, his wife,
Kendel, is trying to define what her role will be as Maryland's newest
"I don't see myself as a traditional first lady, but I'm not a Hillary
(Clinton) policy person either," said Mrs. Ehrlich, 41. "I see myself
somewhere in between."
For now, Mrs. Ehrlich -- an Anne Arundel County assistant public
defender from 1990 to 1995 -- is concentrating on moving her family
back to the city where she lived before her 1993 marriage to
"I really want to first get settled with my family," she said.
Attractive, charismatic, competitive and politically savvy, Mrs. Ehrlich
will serve Maryland well as its first lady, said friends, former co-workers
and Ehrlich campaign staffers.
"People like her," said Annapolis lawyer Bill Mulford, a former County
Council member who attended the University of Baltimore Law School
with Mrs. Ehrlich and later worked with her when she was in the public
"She's just as comfortable working a room with people as she is standing
on a corner waving a sign. I don't see where you go wrong with Kendel
Ehrlich as a first lady or a political spouse."
Former Anne Arundel County executive John G. Gary Jr. called the
Ehrlichs a "great couple" who balance each other's strengths and
"She's very self-confident," said Mr. Gary, who has known Mrs. Ehrlich
since before her marriage to the congressman. "I think she's what you
call a modern-day woman. She's very knowledgeable on issues."
That knowledge was on display last month when Mrs. Ehrlich -- with
only a night's notice -- stood in for her husband at a forum while he was
in Washington for a key congressional vote on Iraq.
In front of a packed crowd and her husband's Democratic opponent,
Mrs. Ehrlich smoothly discussed the Ehrlich campaign's position on
Later that night at the Glen Burnie fund-raiser at Michael's Eighth
Avenue, Mrs. Ehrlich again stood in for her husband. As the business
leaders, lawmakers and other supporters snacked on hors d'oeuvres,
Mrs. Ehrlich -- still looking sharp in a pressed black pantsuit and deep
pink blouse -- worked the room, slipping from one group to another to
shake hands, chat and pose for pictures.
"She can hold her own against Bobby or anybody," said County
Councilman-elect Ed Middlebrooks, who attended the event. "I certainly
wouldn't want to debate her."
For his part, Mr. Ehrlich frequently told supporters during the campaign
what a great job Mrs. Ehrlich would do as first lady.
"I think she's very attractive. I think she's very smart," he said. "I'm
proud to have her as my wife."
But Mr. Ehrlich almost didn't get her after she got a taste of a politician's
The couple first met in November 1990, when Mrs. Ehrlich -- then
known as Kendel Sibiski and a registered Democrat -- returned to her
old Baltimore County elementary school to vote.
A young state delegate running for his second term -- Bob Ehrlich --
was outside the polling place greeting voters.
"I thought, "Oh God, a politician,'" Mrs. Ehrlich recalled recently.
The couple met up again months later at an Annapolis-area health club
and eventually began dating. But tired of the endless round of bull roasts
and political events that are a staple of a politician's life, she broke up
The two eventually got back together after Mr. Ehrlich showed up at his
future wife's door with a list of the Top 10 reasons she should reconsider
dating him. After weighing his arguments, Mrs. Ehrlich decided he was
right. She also eventually joined the GOP -- willingly, she said.
"It's not easy to find people who are incredibly loyal to friends, treat
parents well and have a great sense of humor," Mrs. Ehrlich said of her
husband. "We're extremely compatible."
Return to Annapolis
The Ehrlichs, including 3-year-old son Drew, plan to live full-time in
Governor's Mansion after selling their modest three-bedroom Timonium
Mrs. Ehrlich is excited about the prospect of living again in Annapolis,
the city where she and her husband had their first date -- coffee at the
Maryland Inn -- and married -- at Calvary United Methodist Church.
"I love living in Annapolis," she said.
But she was raised to the north. The youngest of three children born to
Jane and Walt Sibiski, Mrs. Ehrlich graduated from Dulaney High
School in Baltimore County, then the University of Delaware with a
bachelor's degree in criminal justice in 1983.
She earned her law degree four years later and has worked as a lawyer
in public and private practice since then. She currently is on leave from
Comcast Cable Communications.
While she has not yet decided what issues she will focus on as first lady,
Mrs. Ehrlich sees the role as something of a bully pulpit for important
She's interested in substance abuse and the problems it creates --
something she saw firsthand as a public defender and later as a
prosecutor in the Harford County State's Attorney's Office, where she
worked from 1997 until last year.
Though she still views herself as more of an athlete -- she runs when time
permits -- than a lady who lunches or one involved with the arts, she
intends to be an "active" first lady.
Mrs. Ehrlich said she will continue to be her husband's strongest
supporter -- but not his adviser.
"I'm not the detail person," she said. "I don't do policy. I don't tell
husband what to do. It's not good for a marriage."
Still recovering from emergency surgery in August to repair a herniated
disk, Mrs. Ehrlich said she is looking forward to the coming months --
regardless of what they bring.
"It's a real opportunity to -- it may sound trite -- make a difference
state," she said. "The lesson (from this campaign) is if you have the
opportunity in life, do it. It's just too short not to."
Published November 14, 2002, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright © 2002 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.