Ehrlich, O'Malley rekindle animosity

By Aaron C. Davis and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Allusions of racism, rude interruptions and burning glares this week between Maryland's two leading candidates for governor have revealed anew an ugly tension fueling the rematch between Gov. Martin O'Malley and former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.:

They really don't like each other.

Ehrlich (R) and O'Malley (D) have traded increasingly sharp gibes and accusations leading up to what is expected to be their final face-to-face, live televised debate Thursday, hosted by The Washington Post and two media partners, WAMU (88.5 FM) and WUSA (Channel 9).

"Trust you? Trust you?" O'Malley said dismissively during a debate in Baltimore on Monday after insinuating that Ehrlich's repeated mentions of "city" were "coded language" to single out and discredit the achievements of poor, black students in Baltimore and other urban areas of the state.

"I'm not going to put up with that," Ehrlich fired back Tuesday, in a call-in radio program. Asked Wednesday whether he thought O'Malley's remark was about race, Ehrlich said: "I don't know whether he was calling me a racist. . . . If he wasn't, it was close."

Asked the same question about his own comment, O'Malley said: "There are all sorts of connotations to [Ehrlich's] use of the word 'city,' especially when it's only in a disparaging and belittling context. I'm not going to be silent when he talks about what the 'city' schools and 'city' schoolchildren can't do."

The flare-up between the candidates highlights a deep, storied schism between the titans of Maryland politics over the past decade. Much of their animosity is rooted in Baltimore-centric episodes such as one 41/2 years ago in which then-Gov. Ehrlich embarrassed then-Mayor O'Malley by supporting a plan to take over 11 city schools.

But the dislike runs deeper for personal reasons.

Before the two faced off four years ago, The Post reported that an Ehrlich aide was spreading an Internet rumor about infidelity by O'Malley: that he had separated from his wife and fathered an illegitimate child with a Baltimore television anchorwoman.

No truth was found to the rumor, and O'Malley alleged that Ehrlich knew about the effort to smear him and condoned it. Ehrlich fired the aide and said he hadn't known about the rumor. But several people close to O'Malley said that the incident remains a dark moment for the governor and that O'Malley never believed Ehrlich's public pronouncements that he was not involved.

"O'Malley will never forgive for that, never forgive. It strikes at the core of his being, affected his kids, his family," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D). He summed up the Ehrlich-O'Malley relationship by saying that he holds out hope that one day, before they die, they might speak kindly to one another.

"They will come together for political events when all the ex-governors are there, but as far as being friends: I would certainly think - I would hope - that if either one of them were dying - you know, Martin is a religious man, and Ehrlich is a decent individual - that one would go [visit] and reconcile with the other on his deathbed."

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