E-mails: Mistakenly released negative jobs report a public relations 'fiasco' for Md. governor's office

By Aaron C. Davis, John Wagner and Ann E. Marimow
Monday, September 27, 2010; 9:12 PM

A senior member of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration ordered a gloomy economic report removed from a state Web site last month that ran counter to a more positive spin O'Malley's office had approved about slowing job growth in the state, e-mails show.

The internal report characterized Maryland's economy as having "stalled." It was mistakenly posted by a staffer on Aug. 20 and removed hours later as alarm bells rang in two state agencies and in the governor's office, the documents show.

The negative report "was diametrically opposed to the discussed and eventually-approved messaging" that goes through a process of being signed off by the department and the governor's office, one staffer wrote in an e-mail explaining the "situation" to a director in his department. "The theme of the discussion was quite clear that we would emphasize private sector job growth as progressing . . . at no time did we remotely discuss messaging that the economic recovery had stalled."

Maryland Secretary of Labor, Licensing, & Regulation Alexander M. Sanchez said he ordered the report removed. "It was a mistake, a small mistake and we moved to correct it as quickly as we could," he said

The e-mails were released on Monday by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who is hoping to unseat O'Malley (D) in November. They had been obtained under a public records request. The Washington Post obtained and authenticated copies of the e-mails.

It was unclear on Monday what impact the revelations might have on the governor's race, but they come as O'Malley and Ehrlich have begun airing television ads targeting each other's credibility.

"It appears a staff member told the truth, was caught telling the truth, and then they just made up the rest of the story," Ehrlich said at a news conference in Glen Burnie.

The rather obscure state agency headed by Sanchez, known in Annapolis by its acronym of DLLR, has been a target of Ehrlich throughout the campaign, with the former governor claiming it has become overzealous in its regulation of business since he left office.

"State agencies are a direct function of the governor," Ehrlich said. "This episode is symbolic of an attitude at that agency."

Questions about the documents dampened O'Malley's effort on Monday to highlight his work to help Maryland's small businesses during a visit to the White House.

O'Malley watched from the front row of the ornate East Room as President Obama signed legislation designed to expand access to loan guarantees, a program O'Malley lobbied other governors to support and that was based in part on a program he pushed to create earlier this year in Maryland. O'Malley's office had said the governor was expected to stand onstage with president. He did not, but was acknowledged by Obama.

One internal DLLR e-mail said the order to remove the report came "from the top."

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