ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 27 -- After months of hearing rumors in government hallways and reading allegations in newspapers concerning her relationship with a Maryland Cabinet secretary, lobbyist Carolyn T. Burridge decided to strike back today.
"I could not remain silent," Burridge said at a news conference she called to dispute accusations that her clients have benefited improperly from her friendship with Secretary of Licensing and Regulation William A. Fogle Jr., the top regulatory official in the state. "It is now time to set the record straight," she said.
And so over 20 minutes, in a calm, measured tone, Burridge called news media reports on the subject inaccurate, said an internal memo cautioning Fogle to keep a professional distance from her was "totally unprovoked," and said implications that her career has soared because of Fogle's status were "insulting to me and to women in general."
The remarks were the latest twist in the months-long saga concerning the relationship between Fogle, a longtime friend of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and Burridge, one of Annapolis' 10 best-paid lobbyists whose clients have included several companies regulated to varying degrees by Fogle's department.
"Why is it that a woman who achieves substantial success is presumed to have achieved it only through the intervention of a man?" she asked. "I am highly qualified for what I do on the basis of my education, my experience and my track record, and that is the reason for my success."
The proof, she said, is in her clients, who "have given me a 100 percent vote of confidence."
"I will have to give serious consideration" to whether to represent clients in future matters involving Fogle's department, she said. But, she said, "I have no intention of stepping down from my career and my profession that I have worked throughout my life to build."
Her relationship with Fogle, which Burridge once again today called "personal and professional," has raised eyebrows among legislative leaders, who say it has created the appearance of a conflict of interest that has undermined the effectiveness of the licensing department.
The controversy over the relationship began in May, with the revelation that Fogle's department had awarded Burridge a $5,000 contract without competitive bidding to lead a two-day seminar for department administrators on how to talk to reporters.
Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg ordered Fogle to cancel the retreat. Today, Burridge said, "I am grateful to the media . . . . While there was nothing illegal about that contract, frankly I had not given that full thought. In hindsight, I made a mistake."
She was less conciliatory, however, about a November memo, which first became public in a Baltimore Sun article, to Fogle written by department spokesman Bruce L. Bortz, in which Bortz called the friendship "a ticking time bomb" and urged the secretary to create a "neutrality pact" on issues involving Burridge's clients.
"Nothing I have done -- past or present -- would provoke such a memo," Burridge said.
She also dismissed reports that she and Fogle had traveled together to out-of-state meetings and had shared a hotel room.
Fogle said last week he was creating "an ethical wall" between himself and lobbyists.