O'Malley Takes Race To Duncan's Home Turf

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley plans a visit to Montgomery, which is led by Douglas M. Duncan, right.
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley plans a visit to Montgomery, which is led by Douglas M. Duncan, right. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Maryland Democratic primary for governor that has been dominated by debate over Baltimore issues is rapidly spreading to a second front: Montgomery County.

That is in part because of fallout from Douglas M. Duncan's return last week of campaign contributions linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a story that has given new ammunition to critics who say the county executive is too cozy with special interests, including developers.

But it also reflects a strategic move by the campaign of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. After months of largely ignoring his rival, O'Malley has decided to spotlight problems facing Duncan's jurisdiction.

That will be most evident tomorrow, when O'Malley plans to tour the Clarksburg development, where building irregularities made headlines for months last year, and then will hold a town meeting in Germantown on sprawl.

The two camps offered different takes on what is driving the change in dynamic. Aides to Duncan, who has pummeled O'Malley for months on Baltimore crime and schools, suggested that the mayor's campaign is tacitly acknowledging a tightening statewide race and has no choice but to start engaging Duncan.

"We look forward to the comparison of the records, the review of promises Doug has made and kept to the people of Montgomery County and the promises made and broken by the mayor of Baltimore," said Duncan campaign manager Scott Arceneaux.

But O'Malley aides said they see a real opportunity to make inroads in heavily Democratic Montgomery, in part because Duncan has steered so many of his resources in recent weeks to the Baltimore area, including a nearly month-long television ad campaign.

"Montgomery County residents . . . are deeply concerned that . . . they are spending more time stuck in traffic and less time with their families because of runaway development," said O'Malley spokesman Hari Sevugan. "To the extent that Mr. Duncan's record and cozy relationship with developers has had an impact on increased congestion and out-of-control sprawl, they are bound to be a part of this campaign."

Aides to O'Malley said the stepped-up focus on Montgomery was planned before news broke last week about Duncan's Abramoff-related contributions, but they acknowledged that the timing was fortuitous.

After inquiries from The Washington Post, Duncan announced Thursday that he would return $20,000 in campaign contributions from companies based in Saipan and Guam linked to Abramoff. The contributions reached Duncan's campaign in the last week of July 1999, a month before he signed a lease-purchase agreement for a shuttered county school with the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, on whose board Abramoff served.

Democratic insiders said yesterday that the story is likely to inflict at least short-term damage on Duncan in the Washington region. The story has received virtually no attention in Baltimore, however.

"It'll affect Duncan's base in Montgomery County," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who is neutral in the race. "His base is one of the most educated in the history of elected officialdom."

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