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Ehrlichs Discover Poverty Close to Home

By John Wagner and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 2, 2004; Page GZ24

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and his wife, Kendel, learned Monday that they don't have to travel far from their 54-room Georgian mansion in downtown Annapolis to find people in need.

The first couple dropped in on a computer lab behind barred windows in a brick storefront on Clay Street, a neglected corner of Annapolis where crime and poverty endure within a short walk of Government House.

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Md. Legislature

The visit came at the invitation of Mary Wolf, an energetic former TV news producer who opened the lab in the late 1990s with high hopes and $85,000 in grants from Microsoft Corp. mogul Bill Gates's foundation.

Wolf's plan was to rent a small space within a short walk of the 900 residents of Obery Court and College Creek Terrace, two of the nation's oldest public housing complexes. There, neighborhood children who lack home computers could surf the Web, send e-mail, do homework and play games. Two instructors teach classes to unemployed adults in the morning and children after school.

But, as Wolf told the Ehrlichs, the culture of Clay Street, which is affected not just by drugs and deprivation but the city's long history of indifference to its problems, has continued to pose a challenge.

The Ehrlichs mingled with the children and praised Wolf for sticking with the project even as donations have dwindled. They said they hoped they could help bring more attention to her work.

"This is the kind of thing that's real," the governor told her. "My hope for you is that the more people who learn about this lab, the more success you will have."

Pen Pals

Typically, Ehrlich ignores Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery), one of the General Assembly's most outspoken liberal voices and, lately, one of its loudest.

But an open letter written and widely distributed by Franchot on Nov. 18 prompted a change in tactics. Franchot's letter posed the question "Are Marylanders better off today then they were two years ago?" It suggested in no uncertain terms that the answer is no.

Ehrlich responded the day before Thanksgiving with questions and observations of his own.

"Why the bitterness, old friend?" Ehrlich asked. "The sting of losing to an unknown Republican for the second slot on Lieutenant Governor Townsend's ticket must still be there, particularly now that you are the titular leader of the progressive wing of your party. I hope you are more successful next time. You have NO idea how much we want to see you on that Democratic ticket in 2006."

Ehrlich then rebutted Franchot's criticism of his record on a host of issues, including slot machines, job creation, transportation policy and higher education funding. Regarding medical malpractice reform, Ehrlich wrote: "I missed your own draft attempt at medical malpractice reform. Have those mean old trial lawyers still got your tongue?"

He closed with some warm words for the holidays: "Some in state political circles may regard you as a publicity-hungry crank whose philosophy reflects the cutting edge of Carter-Mondale era thinking. I, conversely, respect you for the passionate, if misguided, public servant that you are. Should you pull a stunt like this again, however, I might have second thoughts about defending you the next time Senate President [ Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert)] dismisses you in the press as the wrong end of your party's national symbol. Have a great Thanksgiving and wonderful holiday season."

God and Thanksgiving

For Ehrlich, criticizing the media has all but become a second job of late, or so it seems.

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