He's movin' on up.
Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. got an in-depth look at his new digs last week with a tour of the governor's mansion. Although he visited the regal residence plenty of times during his eight years in the General Assembly, it was the first time he was permitted to inspect the living quarters on the second floor.
Ehrlich (R) was clearly impressed, oohing and aahing to reporters about the sauna, the big-screen television and the weight room. During the campaign, he told one radio interviewer that moving his family to Annapolis "will be like the Clampetts moving to Beverly Hills," referring to the venerable TV show "The Beverly Hillbillies."
In an interview, Ehrlich cheerfully admitted that the mansion will be a big step up from his home in Timonium, a two-story townhouse that he bought in 1997 for $153,000. Before that, he lived in a nearby condominium that his wife, Kendel Ehrlich, disdainfully nicknamed "the Cave," because it was in a basement.
"It was my bachelor pad," he said. "She hated it."
Ehrlich, who commuted to Capitol Hill during his eight years in Congress, is cutting his real estate ties to Baltimore County. His family has decided to put the townhouse up for sale instead of acting as landlords.
"People advised us that renting as governor is probably not the smartest thing to do," he said.
Inauguration day is Jan. 15, but move-in day could come sooner. Ehrlich said outgoing Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) had volunteered to move out a couple of days early.
So does that mean that Glendening has decided where he'll put down roots -- a subject of considerable speculation in Annapolis -- or that he has landed a job? His spokesman, Charles F. Porcari, declined to comment, saying he was "unaware of any private conversation" between Glendening and Ehrlich.
Also still up in the air: the fate of Pooh.
Depictions of Winnie the Pooh have graced the walls of a bedroom in the mansion since Glendening's daughter, Gabrielle Mona, was born in August. Glendening and his wife, Jennifer Crawford, have offered to remove any trace of Pooh to make way for the new kid on the block, 3-year-old Drew Ehrlich.
The governor-elect made clear that his wife will determine Pooh's future. "That's above my pay grade," Ehrlich said.
Endorsement Hard to Digest
Ehrlich may have won the governor's race, but there's still one thing that really sticks in his craw about the campaign: a lack of support from the NRA.
No, not that NRA. He's steaming mad at the National Restaurant Association, whose Maryland chapter endorsed his opponent, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D).
While in Congress, Ehrlich received awards and a gold-star rating from the restaurant association. The group loved his votes against raising the minimum wage and his efforts to prevent federal regulators from extending ergonomics protections to kitchen workers.
Ehrlich also describes himself as a champion of small businesses, so he can't understand why the Restaurant Association of Maryland Inc. threw its weight behind Townsend.
In an interview last week, he was still fuming. He said he was stunned by the endorsement, which he called "disappointing, extremely disappointing."
"There's a problem there," he said darkly, referring to the restaurant association. "I am close to a lot of restaurateurs, and there has been a lot of controversy as a result of that endorsement."
He pointed out that Townsend had supported a proposal to raise the minimum wage for state employees to $11 an hour -- a policy that he said would mean "death for the restaurant business" if extended to the private sector.
Some Maryland restaurateurs said they were concerned about Ehrlich's proposal to legalize slot machines at racetracks, fretting that diners would waste their money gambling instead of wining and dining. But none was willing to go on the record and risk Ehrlich's wrath.
Sergio Vitale, owner of Aldo's Restaurant in Baltimore, is a former intern in Ehrlich's Capitol Hill office and was recently named to the governor-elect's transition team. Vitale said he was so angry when he learned about the association's endorsement of Townsend that he immediately set up "a war room" to lobby restaurant owners back into the Ehrlich camp.
"I can't think of one instance where Bob hasn't supported the industry," Vitale said. "Frankly, the leadership of the Restaurant Association of Maryland is out of step with the membership."