O'Malley logs many miles for appearances he says aren't to boost reelection bid

Gov. Martin O'Malley and his wife, Katie, left, at Monday's unveiling of his mayoral portrait in Baltimore.
Gov. Martin O'Malley and his wife, Katie, left, at Monday's unveiling of his mayoral portrait in Baltimore. (Kenneth K. Lam/associated Press)
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By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 22, 2010

With police escorts and an entourage of taxpayer-funded employees in tow, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley in the past week has led a parade of politicians through downtown Capitol Heights, celebrated the unveiling of his mayoral portrait in Baltimore, noshed on pizza with 150 students in College Park and fist-pumped the revival of the blue crab on the Eastern Shore.

By the end of this week, the governor's state-issued sport-utility vehicle hybrid is on pace to log more than 800 miles for events that have attracted no fewer than 27 television news reports, been talked about for hours on Maryland radio and written about in newspapers statewide, easily outpacing news coverage generated by his Republican challenger, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

But by O'Malley's count, not one mile or minute has been spent on campaigning.

Continuing a long tradition enjoyed by incumbents before him, O'Malley (D) is taking full advantage of his status as Maryland's sitting governor to blur the line between policy and politics heading into November's election, political observers say.

O'Malley will officially begin his reelection bid next week with a three-day, 11-stop tour paid for with a slice of his nearly $6 million in campaign funds. But after that, aides said, he plans to quickly return to several weeks of "official" events as governor, such as his Jobs Across Maryland Tour, which highlights his hiring tax credit recently adopted by the General Assembly, and his Capital for a Day program, which, like a program used previously by Ehrlich, takes the state's Cabinet on a roadshow for face time and picture-taking with local officials.

"It's the power of incumbency -- and it's powerful," said Donald F. Norris, director of the Institute for Public Policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. "Sometimes it can look like campaigning; sometimes it can look like governing. Often, it's a gray area."

Rick Abbruzzese, O'Malley's communications director, said the jobs and Capital for a Day events are legitimate government business because the governor uses them to promote the hiring tax credit, and for Cabinet secretaries to increase communication with local officials. He said the cost of the events could not be directly calculated and were negligible.

"This is more about the use of the governor's time than about state resources," Abbruzzese said.

In an interview after one of his more subdued jobs events Tuesday -- a speech to students at the Public Policy Institute at the University of Maryland in College Park -- O'Malley said that he has always put a premium on being accessible. "You have to not only communicate and manage, but you have to be accessible to the people that you serve," he said. "That accessibility becomes even more heightened in a campaign year, I suppose, but it's really something that we've always done."

O'Malley also said he's simply never been one to sit still for very long.

"You have a vision of your governor sitting behind a desk all day, waiting for people to come into the office, and, yes, we do have some meetings in the office, and we do hang close to Annapolis during [the 90-day General Assembly session]. "But most of my time has always been spent on the road. . . . That's the way we've always rolled."

O'Malley has taken off for road tours following each of the past two legislative sessions to tout progress with the state's schools and other priorities.

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