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O'Malley Rides Wave of Good Polls and Press

By John Wagner and Matthew Mosk
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page C04

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley hardly could have scripted a better few days.

On Monday of last week, Time magazine knighted O'Malley (D) as one of the nation's five best big-city mayors. Under the headline "Wonk 'n' Roller," the magazine ticked off several accomplishments of the mayor and former rock band frontman, proclaiming that "thanks in part to O'Malley, Baltimore might be on the cusp of a renaissance."

The magazine hit newsstands while word was circulating about a new Baltimore Sun poll that showed O'Malley leading Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) in a hypothetical 2006 gubernatorial race. The poll, conducted by Potomac Inc., had O'Malley up 45 to 39 percent over the governor, who had just experienced a rather rough session of the General Assembly. In a Democratic primary matchup against Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, the Sun poll showed O'Malley ahead 45 to 25 percent.

Tuesday brought a fawning delegation of British government officials. They came to learn more about Baltimore initiatives, including CitiStat, an O'Malley management tool that uses a bevy of statistics to measure progress and to hold managers accountable.

O'Malley made a trip to Britain in 2003 to talk to members of Tony Blair's administration about crime and related issues. The return visit was led by a very sociable Louise Casey, head of her government's Anti-Social Behaviour Unit.

The feeling in the room during a Tuesday luncheon was so warm, in fact, that O'Malley got by with putting a positive spin on the uptick in his city's homicide count last year. Things are going so well in Baltimore, he suggested, that people are troubled by such news in a way that would not have been before.

Ehrlich Dismisses Poll Results

Ehrlich offered his view of the Sun's poll Thursday during his annual lecture to Towson University Prof. Richard Vatz's class on political persuasion: He didn't put much stock in it. The reason? "The people asking the questions didn't know how to pronounce my name," the governor said.

He also accused Potomac Inc. of asking "push," or leading, questions, although he offered no specifics. He said other polls he has seen don't show his approval ratings slipping (from 56 percent in January 2004 to 51 percent in the latest Sun poll). He said his campaign has not conducted any polls since October, when he registered "in the high 50s."

Keith Haller, president of Potomac Inc., said that his callers were given the phonetic spelling of Ehrlich's name and that "we are very, very careful in question wording to make sure it's balanced."

Even as Ehrlich dismissed the Potomac Inc. numbers, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) was telling reporters that he thought the poll was terrific -- it showed him running ahead of potential Democratic rivals in a matchup for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul S. Sarbanes (D). "You can't turn a blind eye to a poll like that," Steele told the Gazette.

Cardin Readies Senate Run

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) was making no secret of his plans to enter the 2006 race for Sarbanes's Senate seat. Already in the race is former congressman Kweisi Mfume, also a Democrat.

The state's young Democrats were at work spreading the word of a "major announcement" coming Tuesday from Cardin at the Baltimore Museum of Industry Pavilion.

Cardin, a former speaker of the state House of Delegates, is in his 10th term representing Maryland's 3rd Congressional District, which includes parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties. He said repeatedly that he "will not run away from a tough battle."

Urging Governor on 'Wal-Mart Bill'

Tomorrow, Maryland for Health Care, a coalition spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union, plans to present Ehrlich with the signatures of more than 1,000 Marylanders urging him to sign what is known in Annapolis as "the Wal-Mart bill."

Ehrlich, however, has pledged to veto the bill, which requires a company in Maryland that has at least 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on employee health benefits -- or to contribute to the state's health program for the poor. As written, the bill would currently affect only Wal-Mart.

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