First, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) stole Democratic Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's police commissioner.

You know, Edward Norris, the guy who was supposed to help O'Malley with the issue he has staked his political career upon: bringing down crime in the state's largest city. Instead, he will be heading up the state police, where he will focus on . . . you guessed it . . . bringing down crime in the state's largest city.

Sure, O'Malley is widely viewed as a potential contender to Ehrlich in 2006, and all's fair in politics and war. But Ehrlich really got the mayor's goat last week when he proposed measures to rein in a tax credit program that has helped cities such as Baltimore revitalize downtrodden but historic neighborhoods.

The historic preservation tax credit is a boon not only to local officials but also to developers and homeowners. But last year alone, it cost the state nearly $30 million.

In tough budget times, that's a lot of green. State Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset) filed a bill to kill the program altogether but later agreed to Ehrlich's plan to amend the legislation to simply put a yearly cap on spending for the popular program.

Ehrlich can claim credit for saving the program from extinction, but O'Malley is likely to see money shrink for a program he said has helped turn his city around.

Drat.

Maybe O'Malley ought to rethink his tepid support for Ehrlich's proposal to put slots at the state's racetracks. House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a slots opponent, has been urging the mayor to do just that, arguing that the one-armed bandits will prey on Baltimore's poor and addicted communities.

After last week's hearing on the heritage tax credit, O'Malley said that although slots "might be part of the mix" in fixing the state's budget crisis, he was "concerned about the number of machines" and that the city would receive too few dollars to deal with the effect slots would have on his community. O'Malley also said he is opposed, as is Ehrlich, to legalizing gambling in the city's revitalized Inner Harbor.

Madden Just Can't Stay Away

When he resigned from the Maryland Senate two years ago, Martin G. Madden said he wanted to spend more time focusing on his family and his Howard County insurance business.

When Ehrlich won election in November as Maryland's first Republican governor in three decades, Madden said he had no interest in returning to Annapolis as part of the administration.

So visitors to the second floor of the State House have been amused in recent weeks to see Madden holding court in a neatly appointed -- and very permanent-looking -- office, complete with framed editorial cartoons on the walls, an attractive accent rug on the floor and matching red leather chairs (secured from the state supply warehouse) arranged in front of his desk.

Madden, who was Senate minority leader until his resignation in 2001, confirmed the obvious last week: He has been hired -- on a "contractual" basis, he said -- by the governor's office. Administration sources said they are paying him $48,000 to work for Ehrlich through June, primarily to help the new Republican administration through its first legislative session.

"Marty has the respect of legislative leaders in both parties," said Ehrlich communications director Paul Schurick. "He spends a great deal of time on legislative strategy because, frankly, he thinks like a legislator."

Madden, who was a key adviser to Ehrlich's gubernatorial campaign, has so far helped craft Ehrlich's first budget, which Democrats have yet to attack successfully. Madden said he continues to work closely with Ehrlich's legislative staff on budget issues.

Madden also has spent a lot of time working with appointments secretary Lawrence Hogan, helping to introduce Ehrlich's Cabinet nominees to the senators whose votes are needed to confirm them.

So far, the nominations process also has enjoyed smooth sailing.

It remains to be seen whether Madden's magic will work on his latest and perhaps toughest project: convincing activists and lawmakers to support environment secretary designee Lynn Buhl, a new arrival from Michigan.

Either way, Madden swears he'll be clearing all those photos and drawings off the walls come June.