It's been 34 years since a Republican topped Maryland's political pyramid, and the state GOP is ready to party.
In mid-January, for five days and nights, at eight events from Prince George's County to Baltimore, thousands of celebrants are expected to rally 'round Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his rise to the red-brick governor's mansion.
The tentative schedule calls for festivities to begin Jan. 11, the Saturday before inauguration day Jan. 15, with a free event for children at Howard Community College in Columbia. For two hours, about 300 children are expected to mill around, hobnobbing with dressed-up cartoon characters along with Ehrlich and his wife, Kendel, who are expected to read to the children. The kids also will witness a mock inauguration with Ehrlich and his running mate, Michael S. Steele, "to underscore for children the importance of the inauguration," spokesman Henry Fawell said.
The next day kicks off with a 10:30 a.m. Mass and reception at Steele's parish, St. Mary's Catholic Church in Landover Hills. It'll be a day to "focus on the home towns" of Maryland's top two leaders, Fawell notes, as the Prince George's event gives way to a 2 p.m. parade in Ehrlich's home town of Arbutus. "They absolutely love him," Fawell said. "It's where he grew up, and he's helped put Arbutus on the map."
Jan. 13 brings an inaugural jam at a Baltimore club, a $20 event geared toward a twenty-something audience.
An 8:30 a.m. prayer breakfast at Bowie State University begins the next day's activities. Cardinals, pastors, rabbis and others are expected to gather at the university's Myers Auditorium in the Martin Luther King Jr. Communication Arts Center. The inaugural committee had hoped to have the prayer breakfast the morning of the inauguration, which also is King's birthday, "but with logistics, it was not possible," said Elaine Pevenstein, a co-chairman of the committee. "So we have to have it the day before, and it's going to be very timely."
That night, the R&B group the Spinners plays at an 8 p.m. inaugural concert at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park. Tickets will cost $35 to $40.
Finally, Ehrlich will be sworn in as the 60th governor of Maryland at noon Jan. 15 in the Senate chamber in the white-domed State House in Annapolis. Because only 200 people -- most of them will be lawmakers along with a few friends -- can fit inside the room, Ehrlich's team plans to put jumbo video screens outside the State House for spectators standing on Lawyer's Mall in Annapolis.
Afterward, Ehrlich will give a speech. "He wants to keep it really short because it should be cold," Fawell said. Regardless of the weather, Fawell added, the team is "expecting a huge crowd. We're expecting the streets to be absolutely full."
Additionally, Pevenstein said, Ehrlich is expected to mark King's birthday in his remarks after his swearing-in.
The festivities end that night, with the inaugural gala at 7:30 p.m. at the Baltimore Convention Center. Ehrlich's inaugural committee is sending out 12,000 invitations to people across the state, and tickets are expected to cost $100 to $125, depending on how many corporate donations the committee gets. People who don't receive an invitation, said Carl Wright, inaugural committee chairman, should call the committee headquarters at 410-296-9720 to request one.
Wright and the committee are working hard to raise about $1 million for the festivities, with about half coming from ticket sales and the rest from private donations and corporate sponsors. More money from corporate sponsors means cheaper tickets for the public, Wright said. Unlike campaign contributions, inaugural donations are not subject to disclosure requirements under Maryland's campaign finance laws. Wright said the inaugural staff is not releasing the information at this time.
Ehrlich's inaugural hoopla appears destined to cost more than other recent gubernatorial ascensions in Maryland -- but not as much as Virginia's last year.
When Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening celebrated his 1998 reelection, the tab reached $850,000, about twice the cost of his 1994 inauguration.
Much of that money came from lobbyists and corporations with a stake in issues before the General Assembly and state government.
By comparison, William Donald Schaefer (D) vetoed plans for a 1987 inaugural ball and canceled three receptions after he won a second term -- his fiscal response to the fact that the state was wrestling with a $500 million budget deficit.
In Virginia, Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner's inaugural committee raised $2.5 million after his election last year and wound up with a $1 million surplus, which was used to retire his campaign debt and set up a political action committee.
Ehrlich's team promises to donate any surplus to charity.