Tuesday, February 5, 2013

County Executive Kendel?

While I’m not the biggest football fan, I was certainly happy to see the Baltimore Ravens prevail on Sunday. Their success reminded me of how important, and compelling, a good comeback story can be.

For me, the make or break moment for the Ravens came in their game against Denver. Trailing with less than a minute left to go, Joe Flacco threw a seemingly impossible touchdown pass which tied the game. After that, the Ravens seemed more or less unstoppable throughout the remainder of the post-season.

The citizens of Anne Arundel County may soon be privy to another dramatic comeback story, this time in the political arena.

Last week I wrote about the downfall of Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold. Today, Center Maryland’s Josh Kurtz ably reported on the emerging donnybrook among those looking to succeed him.

Among those said to be interested in the job: Kendel Ehrlich.

The Ehrlichs have struggled to find their niche on Maryland’s ideologically hostile political landscape since Governor Bob Ehrlich left office in 2007. He wrote and exhaustively  promoted a book summarizing his experiences in politics, and both Ehrlichs hosted a short-lived TV show, Politics Unplugged, which ran on WMAR Sunday mornings in 2012.

As for Kendel Ehrlich, over the years numerous scenarios have been floated whereby Mrs. Ehrlich would herself seek elective office in Anne Arundel County. First, I heard she would run for judge, then the rumor that she was seeking appointment to an open state senate seat. I even heard that she might challenge John Leopold for the GOP nomination for county executive.

None of these scenarios ever materialized, of course. At the time I dismissed them as attempts by loyalists stuck in a permanent 2003 worldview to keep the buzz alive about all things Ehrlich in advance of the 2010 election.

Well, John Leopold is gone, the Anne Arundel county executive’s job is open, and Mrs. Ehrlich’s name has again resurfaced as a possible replacement.

When I first heard the Kendel rumor again this week, I again dismissed it. Then, I heard it again, several times, from people I regard as plugged into the political know.

Further, I heard there have even been some concrete steps taken in the furtherance of Mrs. Ehrlich’s candidacy.  Specifically, I was told that Team Ehrlich has already reached out to the four GOP members of the Anne Arundel County Council, as well as others interested in the job, in order to solicit their support. Under this scenario, Mrs. Ehrlich would be appointed to serve out the two years remaining in Leopold’s term, and not seek election in her own right in 2014.

The Republicans on the council are already divided. At least one wants the job himself, and others have allegiances to other possible candidates.  By taking 2014 off the table, Mrs. Ehrlich and her handlers would effectively, and cleverly, sidestep these divisions.  

From a credibility standpoint, Mrs. Ehrlich has a few factors working in her advantage.

Her husband, who carried the county in all three of his gubernatorial campaigns, remains a popular figure in the county. As a wife, mother, and professional woman, Mrs. Ehrlich contrasts nicely with the legacy of the misogynistic, predatory Leopold. Plus, as a former first lady as well as someone who clearly enjoys the spotlight, Mrs. Ehrlich would be comfortable filling such a high profile position.

But Mrs. Ehrlich possesses scant management experience. As Maryland’s first lady, she managed a small staff of 5.5 employees who worked for her at different times during the course of her four year tenure. My State House office adjoined the space reserved for her staff, so I got to know most of them fairly well.  More than half left her office under abrupt circumstances.

She might also be called upon to explain some of her decisions as first lady. Things that went unnoticed by the State House press corps yet were common knowledge to those of us on the governor’s staff – such as Mrs. Ehrlich’s lavish redecoration of Government House, and her occasionally asking state employees to assist with personal chores such as babysitting during working hours – may draw new scrutiny.

Like a pair of restless racehorses, the Ehrlichs are clearly eager to reclaim a place of prominence on the political track.  Is this particular comeback scenario more plausible than some of the others floated during the past few years? Perhaps. Regardless, it will be fun to watch.

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