Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has sought in recent months to put some daylight between his views and those of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley on such hot-button issues as slot machine gambling and stem cell research.

Duncan's latest effort came last week as he ventured onto the home turf of his rival for the Democratic nomination for governor and questioned the wisdom of an O'Malley-backed plan to publicly finance a downtown convention center hotel.

O'Malley has suggested that the proposed 752-room hotel would bolster Baltimore's convention business by offering a facility where conference-goers could block large numbers of rooms. The plan has been criticized by a group of Baltimore ministers, many of them black, who ask why leaders would support a major revenue bond for a hotel when many lower-income neighborhoods remain blighted.

Enter Duncan, who has been trailing O'Malley in early primary polls.

"Downtowns are important, but so are neighborhoods and communities," Duncan said in remarks prepared for delivery Thursday to Baltimore's Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. "Putting all your money into the downtown while communities suffer from crime and struggling schools may be good for tourists and the commuters who come from the suburbs, but it's not so good for the people who actually live there."

Duncan, who counts the redevelopment of Silver Spring's downtown and the new Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center among his chief accomplishments, said his efforts have relied on a combination of public and private resources.

"To me, a real red flag is raised when the private sector says something needs to be done but they won't invest in it," he said in an interview.

His remarks drew criticism from some on the Baltimore City Council, as well as O'Malley's campaign manager, Jonathan Epstein, who said it was in poor form to go after the mayor on the day of the London terrorist attacks.

"On a day when most local executives were concerned about protecting their cities and counties, especially so close to the nation's capital, it was surprising that Doug Duncan was in Baltimore wading into an issue he knows nothing about and distorting Mayor O'Malley's position," Epstein said.

Boosters of the hotel plan say it would limit Baltimore's financial exposure. A recent analysis by the Greater Baltimore Committee concluded that the maximum liability to the city ranges from $1.7 million in 2008 to $5.9 million in 2036.

Rove to Attend Fundraiser for Steele

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) is enlisting some high-powered help as he continues to explore a 2006 U.S. Senate bid.

Republican Party officials confirmed Friday that Karl Rove, the architect of President Bush's campaigns, will appear at a fundraiser for Steele on July 26 in the District.

Dan Ronayne, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the event does not signal that Steele has decided to become a full-fledged candidate for the seat of retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D).

"One of the things you do when you mount an exploratory committee is determine whether you can raise the kind of money you need to mount a campaign," Ronayne said.

Late last month, Steele filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission.

In a letter to commissioners, however, Steele said, "I have not made a final decision concerning whether to be a candidate."

Field Growing in Race to Succeed Cardin

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D-Baltimore County) this week will join a growing field of candidates seeking to succeed Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) in Maryland's 3rd Congressional District.

Hollinger, a former nurse who is chairman of the Senate's Health Committee, has scheduled an announcement Wednesday outside the School of Nursing at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

She will join two other declared Democratic candidates: former Baltimore health commissioner Peter L. Beilenson and Del. Neil F. Quinter (Howard). Other possible Democratic contenders include Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.

Cardin is stepping down to seek the U.S. Senate seat held by Paul S. Sarbanes.