Religious leaders from across Maryland gathered in Bowie yesterday to pray for Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., but after the "amens" came sharp criticism of his plans to reinstitute the death penalty and bring slot machines to the state's racetracks.
"It is premature for the Ehrlich administration to set aside the death penalty moratorium," said the Rev. Felton Edwin May, presiding bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church.
May also said slot machines "are completely out of the question. There can be no equivocation on utilizing the frailties of human kind to balance the state's budget."
May offered his views after delivering the benediction at a morning prayer service at Bowie State University that featured jazzy gospel music and Negro spirituals and drew about 500 religious leaders from across the spectrum, including Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore. But on the eve of Ehrlich's inauguration, politics and policy hung heavily in the air.
"On the death penalty, the faith community wants to be in the dialogue because it is not fairly applied in Maryland," said the Rev. James Anderson, rector of Epiphany Episcopal Church in Forestville.
"I am concerned about the slot machines and what they may lead to in terms of addiction," he said.
The Rev. Stacey Nickerson, pastor of Arbutus United Methodist Church in Baltimore County, which the Ehrlich family attends, said she has conflicting emotions., Nickerson, who will hold the family's Bible when the new governor takes his oath in Annapolis today, she said she is praying that God changes Ehrlich's heart on the issue of slot machines and the death penalty.
"I certainly cannot support slots, and I just pray that they will work hard to find the money that we need," she said. "I am also in opposition to the death penalty, as is the United Methodist Church."
For his part, Ehrlich (R) told the gathering that while religion is important to his family and has a place in secular society, "there are also lines in a free society as well." He said, for example, that he is bothered by football players who thank God on the field after they score a touchdown.
"Does that mean that God isn't with the defensive backs? God didn't win this election. God is not with a particular political party. We didn't pray to win. What I prayed was for God to allow me to use the talent that he gave me when I was born."
Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele (R) spoke about what it means to him to be the first African American in Maryland elected to statewide office.
"It is an important moment for me and my family, given that tomorrow is Martin Luther King's birthday," Steele said. "In seminary I spent a lot of time reflecting and wondering, 'What does God have in store for me?' Here we are some 20 years later, you kind of get a glimpse to come," Steele said. "I know there is more to come, but I don't know what it is yet. That's the power of prayer -- it puts you in a mindful place, a place you begin to understand in the overall scheme of things."
Yesterday, Ehrlich also named two more nominees for Cabinet positions: former Republican state senator Jean W. Roesser of Montgomery County, to head the Department of Aging, and Baltimore real estate executive Victor L. Hoskins, for Housing and Community Development.
Jacqueline L. Phillips, a Chevy Chase political consultant, was nominated to serve as Roesser's deputy.
Roesser, 72, served eight years in the state Senate and two in the House of Delegates representing Potomac and upper Montgomery County. During her tenure, she helped push through rules governing the relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers.
"Jean Roesser is an experienced legislator who will pave the way to ensure that seniors are well-informed about the federal and state programs and resources available to them and their caregivers," Ehrlich said in a statement.
Hoskins, 45, is the senior vice president of Strategic Alliances of UrbanAmerica L.P., a $400 million Wall Street-based real estate investment company. Before that, he served as Baltimore's deputy commissioner of Housing and Community Development.
Phillips, 67, was a volunteer on numerous political campaigns and the managing and founding member of the National Republican Women's Political Action Committee.