It's Televised Tit for Tat Between Ehrlich and O'Malley

By John Wagner
Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley punched back hard yesterday in an increasingly ugly brawl with Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. over crime-fighting credentials that is playing out on Baltimore television.

In a new ad, O'Malley, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, calls the Republican governor "desperate" for questioning the accuracy of his city's crime statistics and says, "It's Bob Ehrlich's promises we should question."

"After pledging to end parole for violent criminals, Ehrlich broke that promise and allowed the release of prisoners who've committed violent crimes and murders again," the narrator says in a 30-second spot that includes flashing police lights juxtaposed with pictures of Ehrlich.

The ad closes by asking: "Can we trust anything Bob Ehrlich says?"

The ad is referring to Ehrlich's idea to "end parole for violent criminals," which was No. 20 on a list of "101 Outstanding Ideas for Maryland" put forward by Ehrlich in his 2002 campaign.

The O'Malley campaign provided a list late yesterday of 16 men who were charged with committing murder while under supervision of state parole and probation officials during Ehrlich's tenure.

"A lot of these are the result of the Parole Commission and the law," said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver . "It's not just the governor's prerogative."

Ehrlich's office also mentioned two legislative initiatives that aimed to eliminate the possibility of parole for certain offenders but said they were thwarted by the Democrat-led legislature.

In 2003, Ehrlich pushed a measure to impose mandatory prison sentences without parole for violent offenders using firearms. That bill never came to a vote, according to the campaign.

And in a special session this year, Ehrlich pushed sex offender legislation that included mandatory minimums with no parole for violent sex offenders. That provision was removed from the final version of the bill. "Rather than explain his failed record on crime, the mayor attacks a governor who's moved the ball forward on public safety," DeLeaver said.

The new O'Malley ad, which is airing only in the Baltimore market, comes just days after Ehrlich took to the air with a TV ad that questioned the accuracy of O'Malley's crime statistics and knocked the mayor for failing to meet a goal of reducing Baltimore homicides to no more than 175 a year. Ehrlich has also sought to call attention to crime-related issues with recent radio ads and direct mail.

Meanwhile, O'Malley's former health commissioner, Peter Beilenson , has scheduled a news conference today "to expose Bob Ehrlich's failed record on drug treatment in the state of Maryland."

Whether They'll Meet Is Debatable

Time appears to be running out for formal debates between the two gubernatorial contenders.

Both sides expressed frustration after a meeting yesterday between senior campaign aides to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Ehrlich is remaining firm on his desire not to debate past mid-October. Given the logistics required to pull together a televised debate, that in essence means that Ehrlich (R) and O'Malley (D) would have to engage sometime next week.

The two camps converged yesterday at WJZ-TV, the CBS affiliate in Baltimore, with the goal of arranging a time and terms for a debate hosted by the station. They left without reaching agreement.

"At this point, we really don't think Bob Ehrlich is interested in debating," O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said afterward.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said Ehrlich is willing to appear at WJZ "anytime, any day" next week to debate O'Malley and hopes that something can still be worked out.

"She wasn't in the meeting," Abbruzzese countered.

He also ticked off a series of other proposed debates later in the month that O'Malley is committed to attending and said O'Malley is willing to debate right up until the election. DeLeaver said O'Malley has declined several invitations from Ehrlich for radio debates.

To date, the two candidates have appeared on stage together twice, both times at untelevised forums that allowed limited interaction. One focused on disabilities issues, the other on aging issues.

The candidates' running mates, meanwhile, are scheduled to appear today at a forum in Cambridge being hosted by the AARP. Ehrlich and O'Malley appeared before the same group last month.

Tomorrow will be the second time in a week that Prince George's Del. Anthony G. Brown , O'Malley's ticket mate, and Kristen Cox , Ehrlich's pick for lieutenant governor, have appeared at the same forum.

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