By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun
9:20 PM EDT, June 24, 2011
Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. struck a wistful tone while speaking at his first public event since two top campaign aides were indicted, saying to the mostly African-American audience at the funeral Friday for former Del. Ruth M. Kirk that a "generation of political leadership is passing us by."
Ehrlich's address at a West Baltimore Baptist church came a week after the state prosecutor's office accused workers in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign of roles in election night robocalls that prematurely told voters in heavily African-American areas of Baltimore and Prince George's County to "relax" because the election was over.
Community leaders, West Baltimore residents and friends said they were focused on the celebration of Kirk's life, and many declined to comment about the accusations surrounding Ehrlich's campaign.
"Sometimes we bury the hatchet at funerals," said Michael Johnson, a West Baltimore resident who attended the funeral. "I don't think we are uncomfortable. I think he is."
Though they came from opposite parties, the two had a close relationship, forged during their time together in the House of Delegates. Kirk, a Democrat, supported the Republican Ehrlich's successful 2002 campaign for governor.
Kirk, who died at her home last week at age 81, represented West Baltimore for six terms. She was bumped out of office by Del. Keiffer Mitchell in last year's Democratic primary. Mitchell watched the ceremony from the second-floor gallery.
The speaking program was a mix of current and former elected officials, family members and preachers. Several mayoral candidates circulated, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, earned a standing ovation when she said that nearby Franklin Square Park would be renamed in Kirk's honor.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch credited Kirk for pushing him on women's health issues, particularly on a rule allowing woman to make an appointment with an obstetrician-gynecologist without a referral from a primary care physician. Like many others, the Democratic leader observed, she "had an eye for the truth" and never adopted a highbrow Annapolis attitude.
Kirk attended Baltimore schools and later received her GED. She was first elected in 1982 and was known for an annual Family Fun Festival she held at Franklin Square Park. Several politicians, including Rawlings-Blake, pledged that the festival would continue.
Democratic former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke recalled Kirk's insistence on brevity. He recalled giving the Baltimore delegation a detailed briefing on a complicated issue. Kirk tugged him aside and dispatched the following advice: "Say what you have to say and sit down."
"She was a friend in a good times and in bad times," Schmoke said. "And when you are mayor of Baltimore there are plenty of bad times."
Ehrlich arrived early with staff member Greg Massoni. The former governor sat in a front pew and stayed during the lengthy service. At times he scanned the audience and occasionally left his seat to confer with lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who also spoke during the funeral.
Last week, Paul Schurick, Ehrlich's campaign manager, and Julius Henson, a political consultant, were accused of orchestrating 112,000 Election Day robocalls. Ehrlich has not been accused of wrongdoing.
The indictment includes a description of an Ehrlich campaign document called The Schurick Doctrine, presumably named after Ehrlich's campaign manager. The memo outlined ways to "promote confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats," according to court papers.
The document said, according to court papers: "The first and foremost desired outcome [of the Schurick Doctrine strategy] is voter suppression." The indictment did not identify the document's author.
The strategy sparked outrage from Democrats and African-American leaders, some of whom were present for the funeral.
Kirk had a strong relationship with the former governor and several noted her propensity toward forgiveness.
She joined a group called Democrats for Ehrlich in 2002. After Ehrlich became governor, he said, she was one of a handful of Democratic lawmakers who would share gossip with him and warn him about Democratic caucus plans.
"When she wanted to come and see me about advice about my enemies lying in wait … I said 'Yes, Ma'am,'" Ehrlich said in his address.
He could not be reached for comment after the ceremony.
"She was about transparency," Ehrlich said. "She was not of this generation of politicians. She was a throwback. I hope the next ones are here."
Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant, a Baltimore Democrat, said that Kirk likely blamed the robocalls on the Ehrlich underlings who were indicted. "She would have said that he was mixed up in the wrong crowd," Tarrant said. "But she would have let him know it was wrong."
Democratic former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who left office in January 2010 after a jury convicted her of theft, also spoke.
The audience applauded as Dixon, wearing a stylish black hat, stepped forward.
She gave remarks without a prepared speech or notes and choked up when she recalled how Kirk comforted her during the past two years, which she referred to as "my challenges."
Dixon said that some "ran away" from her. But Kirk would call daily. "I can't tell you what that did for my soul," Dixon said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.
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