Monday, October 14, 2013

Thoughts on "The Warrior Princess"

Last weekend, I attended the MDGOP Oktoberfest event held at the Maryland State Fairgrounds as a guest of Councilman Todd Huff.

I haven’t hesitated to slap the MDGOP upside the hypothetical head when it has made errors, so I don’t mind showing it some love, too. Resurrecting this one-time annual Ellen Sauerbrey campaign event as a fundraising vehicle for the MDGOP was a really good idea, and the people responsible for conceiving and pulling it off – such as Delegate Bill Frank as well as Mrs. Sauerbrey herself – deserve kudos. It was a nice, fun, well-executed event.

I’ve noticed that reactions to me at these events fall into three categories.

First, people are legitimately happy to see me (usually past coworkers and political comrades in arms). Second, people are scared to interact with me (typically people I have written about but do not know well). Third, people react negatively because they resent some of my past blunt assessments of missteps made by Bob Ehrlich and his senior advisors.

Originally I planned to illustrate my experience last Saturday evening by describing my interactions with one person in each category.

Instead, I decided to focus on just one person with whom I crossed paths, and let you decide for yourself in which category she falls.

I had never heard of Mary Beth Carozza before I encountered her for the first time shortly after joining the Ehrlich Administration. But that initial two-minute conversation told me everything about her that I needed to know.

You see, Carozza – then Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Ehrlich, now a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates from District 38C on the Eastern Shore – is a parochialist of the highest order. During that initial conversation, she mentioned the three passions that dominated her entire belief system.

And, in the four years that I worked with her, she never ever really stopped talking about them.

The first was her devotion to military issues.  She was a civilian employee at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 and, by all accounts, acquitted herself with great bravery and dedication to her colleagues.  It was clearly a moment of pride for her, and something she liked to talk about often.

But while you can take the girl away from the Pentagon, you can never really take the Pentagon out of the girl, I guess. 

Her preoccupation with military matters – something a Deputy Chief of Staff for a state governor doesn’t often encounter – became something of a running joke within the State House. The Baltimore Sun’s David Nitkin alluded to Carozza’s martial proclivities when he profiled her in February 2003, even mentioning the bellicose nickname allegedly given to her by Don “Rummy” Rumsfeld himself: “The Warrior Princess.”  

This militiaphilia even brought her into conflict with Governor Ehrlich on at least one occasion.

According to a story Greg Massoni told a bunch of us in the press office, the governor made plans to play golf on September 11, 2003. This rankled Carozza’s sensibilities, and she aggressively counseled him to change his plans, which he refused to do.

Now, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with Ehrlich’s decision for two basic reasons. First, one of the legacies of 9/11 is that Americans should not alter their routines due to intimidation by terrorists. Second, the man was, after all, the governor and therefore entitled to make his own choices without being subject to staff harassment.

But Carozza refused to let it go.

Indeed, according to Massoni, while Ehrlich was on the golf course, she kept calling his cellphone in an apparent effort to disrupt his game through one contrived inquiry after another. Eventually, he stopped taking her calls. 

Later on, I discussed Carozza with one of the governor's other press secretaries, and his comment mirrored what Phil said about Allan in The Hangover: "I think the governor keeps her around because he thinks she's kind of funny."

We had another Deputy Chief of Staff, Edward Miller, who was equally myopic on issues affecting Israel. I often thought the Ehrlich Administration would have been more successful had Carozza and Miller been compelled to swap their pet issues – but I can sure understand why neither of Ehrlich’s chiefs of staff nor the governor himself was anxious to have that conversation with the Princess.

The second defining facet of Carozza’s identity: Her loyalty to her hometown: Ocean City, Maryland.

Carozza’s idyllic, idealistic vision of Ocean City and the surrounding Shore community rivaled Forrest Gump’s unblinking affinity for Greenbow, Alabama. Its needs were always prioritized, and its personalities elevated to celebrity status.

As Hurricane Isabel was about to hit in September 2003, Carozza assumed personal control over Ocean City’s storm preparation activities. Local officials were so pleased with her efforts that I think they were reluctant to send her back to Annapolis when the storm was over.

Some of us would have been happy if they'd kept her. But I digress.

The third element of Carozza’s worldview is a devotion to the mythical legacy of Governor Ehrlich.

Look, I was proud to serve the governor, and think that – although he wasn’t perfect – he accomplished a lot of good things.

But Carozza is a member of a subgroup of my former coworkers for whom feelings of respect and appreciation for Governor Ehrlich are not enough. For them, every success was transformative, no mistakes were ever made, and every setback was someone else’s fault.

After the governor’s defeat, Carozza headed an effort to produce a taxpayer-sponsored “legacy book” highlighting the governor’s successes. Boxes of undistributed copies of this glossy exercise in hagiography sat in the Maryland Republican Party’s offices for years.

Carozza’s zealous devotion to all things Ehrlich also contributed to the administration’s biggest public relations nightmare.

As was widely reported, and told to me by Joe Steffen himself at the time, Carozza was the person who sent Steffen into state departments to make assessments of personnel and policies. Indeed, the two departments which Steffen visited for that purpose – Juvenile Services and Human Resources – were both part of Carozza’s portfolio of departments for which she had oversight responsibility.

The fact that she was not summoned in front of the legislative committee that investigated that matter still mystifies me. But the facts are clear: Carozza green lighted it from the beginning. 

So what kind of delegate would the Warrior Princess make? 

As this article demonstrates, all three of Carozza’s guiding passions are as much a part of her campaign as they were her State House tenure.

In some respects, the job she’s seeking plays to her strengths.

After all, parochialism is not only a useful quality in a legislator, it’s also something of a requirement. Her tenacity and knowledge of her home city/county would certainly be assets.

And, if Virginia decides to send an invasion force up the Chesapeake Bay, she’s got it covered.