For baby Ehrlich, gifts of glitterati
Presents: The White House and some political big shots are on a long list of those who marked Joshua Taylor's birth.
By David Nitkin
April 23, 2004
Years will pass before young Joshua Taylor Ehrlich realizes that not all newborns receive embroidered bibs from the White House or balloon bouquets from actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
By then, Joshua will have outgrown the University of Maryland onesie from college President C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. and the tiny Gilman School sweat shirt from attorney Jervis Finney. The sterling silver rattle from Democratic state Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah of Prince George's County will have tarnished, and the trees planted in his honor in Israel will have grown taller than him.
But if he looks back through scrapbooks or official documents at the gifts that he, brother Drew and parents Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Kendel Ehrlich received after his birth March 6, Joshua will see the stir caused by his arrival.
Responding to a public records request from The Sun, the governor's office released this week a 22-page list of presents that arrived at Government House to commemorate the birth. Joshua was just the second baby born to a sitting Maryland governor since 1879. (Gov. Parris N. Glendening and his wife, Jennifer Crawford, brought baby Gabrielle home to the same house 19 months earlier.)
Like most babies, Joshua received dozens of outfits, books and stuffed animals. Elephants were a particular favorite, befitting the scion of a rising GOP star. Most of the gifts were modest and tasteful, and would not seem out of place inside the working-class Arbutus rowhouse where Joshua's daddy grew up as the son of a secretary and a commission-only car salesman.
"They are living in a mansion. They have a lot of things. They didn't want people to go crazy," said Ehrlich spokesman Greg Massoni. "It's not like they were in need of anything in particular."
More noteworthy than the offerings is who has been doing the giving. Not only did California's Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver give balloons, but two other sitting governors also sent gifts: Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry gave flowers, and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner sent an embroidered blanket. The staff of the National Governors Association sent a large white teddy bear.
A flower bouquet arrived courtesy of President Bush's 2004 campaign manager, Maryland native Ken Mehlman; and the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs sent a "White House Food Service" bib. State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller gave a Waterford crystal picture frame, and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer offered a $100 savings bond.
The gift list does not include estimated values, except for the occasional gift certificate. The governor's office would not allow a photographer to take pictures of the items on the list.
State ethics laws require the governor and other public officials to report on annual financial disclosure statements gifts of more than $20 made by a person who does business with the state or who is a registered lobbyist. Additional restrictions prevent officials from accepting gifts from someone who is seeking to do business with the agency they work for or whose financial interests "may be substantially affected in a specific way by the employee."
Because of those laws, the governor's staff decided to return some gifts that came from registered lobbyists. If Casper R. Taylor Jr. of Cumberland had still been House speaker, his jack-in-the-box would surely have been a welcomed nursery addition. But he was defeated in 2002 and now represents gambling interests and others in Annapolis; the present was returned.
Likewise, a bib from former state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman went back, as did an American flag teddy bear bank from Bruce C. Bereano - convicted of federal mail fraud charges in the 1990s and now fighting a suspension of his lobbying license over an illegal contingency fee contract.
Joshua's birth provided an opportunity for many high-ranking state employees to get in good with the boss. Most Cabinet chiefs sent their own gifts, such as the Tiffany and Co. plate set from Budget and Management Secretary James C. Chip DiPaula Jr. and the 1999 Barton & Guestier Margaux bottle of Bordeaux wine from Labor, Licensing and Regulation Secretary James D. Fielder Jr.
"Everybody needs to celebrate," Fielder said. "You have to punctuate the good things in life."
But after giving individual gifts, the entire Cabinet chipped in for a donation of undisclosed size to the Gilman School Scholarship Fund in Joshua's name. It's a sure way to the heart of the governor, one of the institution's best-known alumni.
Some worry about the perception of access and influence that even small gifts can engender.
"It offers a hint into the culture of Annapolis that so many people gave. Clearly they feel it is obligatory," said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, the campaign finance watchdog group. "Everyone tries to curry favor with little gifts and tokens. It's another way of getting contact and getting a phone call returned."
Knowing that suddenly having competition for a parent's affection can be rough on siblings, many givers decided to include something extra for big brother Drew, 4. He got McDonald's gift certificates; a lacrosse stick from Del. Charles R. Boutin, a Harford County Republican; and Bionicle Legos from political commentator and developer Blair Lee IV.
Truth be told, the news media also got in on the act. Sun staff writer Pat Meisol, who has written extensively on Kendel Ehrlich, gave a bib. Sun editorial writer Karen Hosler and her husband, Alan Friedman, who works for the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, had trees planted in Israel in Joshua's honor. WBAL-TV's general manager, Bill Fine, gave an outfit with the station's logo.
Some gifts were clearly intended for grown-ups, such as the box of cigars from Mark McFaul, a Republican activist from Baltimore.
And if fulfilling first-lady duties while mothering two boys gets to be too much, Kendel Ehrlich she can take advantage of the gift from state Sen. Nancy Jabobs, a Harford County Republican: a one-hour full-body massage from a leading capital city masseuse.
"I figured that Kendel probably needed a gift more than Joshua did.
She's probably having a lot of sleepless nights," Jacobs said. "I would
much prefer to have that rather than another stuffed elephant."
Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun