Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele says he hasn't forgotten his campaign promise to address evidence of racial bias in the state's use of the death penalty.

Steele (R) said Friday that, although it has been nearly three years, he is still working on a formal report for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) on the issue. Now it appears that it might come too late for Wesley E. Baker, the death row inmate whose execution was stayed in 2002 to give researchers time to study racial and other inequities in the way the state handles the death penalty.

Ehrlich signed a death warrant Friday for Baker, ordering what would be the state's first execution in more than a year to take place during the five-day period beginning Dec. 5.

Steele spoke about the issue Friday while campaigning for U.S. Senate, saying that he remains steadfastly opposed to the death penalty and that he has voiced those views to the governor regarding the Baker case. Steele said he plans to send a memo to the governor outlining his concerns about the way the death penalty is applied.

"I know a lot of people think I've forgotten. I have not," he said. "I am a man of my word on that. This is a big issue, an important issue, for me and a lot of others, I know. I don't run away from any issue. I'm not dancing around on this at all."

Still, the lieutenant governor's inaction on the subject has left a sour taste with death penalty foes, who once viewed him as a potentially critical ally.

"I am disappointed," Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. "We had been very excited that we had someone openly opposed to the death penalty elected to statewide office. But it hasn't made any difference at all."

GOP Takes a Cue From Duncan

Campaign literature from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democratic candidate for governor, is getting some prominent exposure in an unlikely place: the front window of the Maryland Republican Party in Annapolis.

For about a week now, the state GOP has displayed a poster board featuring magnified text from a scathing Duncan missive titled "Martin O'Malley: The Boy in the Band."

The flier, which takes Duncan's Democratic rival to task for Baltimore's violent crime, first circulated in late September as O'Malley, Baltimore's mayor, prepared to announce his bid for governor. O'Malley is criticized for performing with his Irish rock band the same night a slaying took place in his city.

"On Friday, September 16th, O'Malley took to the stage with the band . . . strumming the night away as his crime-plagued city lost another life to violence," the flier says. "Just hours before the Mayor would take time from the pressing business of running the city, a 56-year-old man was beaten to death with a cane."

Maryland GOP spokeswoman Audra Miller said the party decided to show off Duncan's work last weekend to coincide with an O'Malley visit to Annapolis to campaign for Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who is up for reelection this week.

"We figured we might as well use it," Miller said. "We thought the mayor might appreciate it."

It turns out he didn't. But aides to O'Malley were more critical of Duncan.

"It is unfortunate, but predictable, that Duncan's misleading negative attacks are now being co-opted by Governor Ehrlich and his campaign team," said O'Malley spokesman Jonathan Epstein.

Jody Couser, Duncan's campaign spokeswoman, said the flier was meant to highlight O'Malley's "broken promise" to retire from his band this year. Although O'Malley's appearances have been significantly curtailed, he continues to play from time to time with O'Malley's March. Aides say the mayor never promised a clean break.

Republican Senators' Showdown

There's a showdown brewing among Maryland's Republican state senators.

Eastern Shore Sen. E.J. Pipkin, who lost a bid for the U.S. Senate last year, confirmed a Baltimore Sun report Friday that he is mounting a challenge to Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus (Somerset).

"I respect Senator Stoltzfus," Pipkin said. "I just think I'd be a better leader."

Stoltzfus said he did not want to debate Pipkin in the news media. "I understand his ambition and his desire to be a leader, and that's okay. Senators have a lot of ambition."

The Republican caucus has scheduled a vote on the matter for Tuesday.

Sarbanes Honored, Maybe a Bit Early

A tribute to retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) drew a who's who of Maryland Democrats to a Baltimore hotel Tuesday night.

Party officials say the event, which doubled as a fundraiser, netted more than $350,000 from the 700-plus attendees, including former Senate Democratic leader Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota, four former Maryland governors and a flock of Democrats seeking to replace Sarbanes.

Sarbanes appeared taken aback by the turnout, particularly given the time remaining in his term. "I don't fall off the cliff tonight," he said. "I continue to be your senator not only until the end of next year, but three days into 2007."