"They did not do a good job working with the legislature," Frosh said of Ehrlich's administration. "You heard about a bill when it went in and when it died. This is like night and day."

But to detractors, O'Malley's apparent national ambitions follow a familiar pattern from his days in Baltimore. Before his first term as mayor was up, O'Malley was criticized for putting gubernatorial ambitions in front of city business.

"The current mayor treats us like steppingstones," Carl Stokes said in a 2003 article in The Baltimore Sun as he announced his primary challenge to O'Malley.

O'Malley shot back at the time, "People overestimated my ambition, and they underestimated my dedication to this city. … My feelings for the city are deep, and we're making tremendous progress." (Stokes, now a member of the Baltimore City Council, decided to run instead for Council President that year and lost. O'Malley trounced his Democratic rivals in the primary and easily won re-election.)

In Annapolis last week, O'Malley was getting the benefit of the doubt from an unusual corner. Republican Sen. Bryan Simonaire of Anne Arundel County said a national spotlight can be good for the state.

As for the legislative session, Simonaire said, "the proof is in the pudding."

"At the end of the session, how effective was he?" Simonaire said. "I don't think you have to be in the building." But, he added, if O'Malley is unable to move his agenda because he's seen as absent, "he'll be harshly criticized, not only by Republicans but by the people of Maryland."

O'Malley's staff pointed to a hybrid event Friday in Hanover as an example of how the governor can handle his two roles.

He wore a dark suit as he shared a stage with Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer at a union training center for a governors association event that stressed how state spending can create jobs.

When that event wrapped up, O'Malley traded his suit coat for a Ravens jacket and walked 10 feet to another table. There — before a Maryland-themed backdrop — he accepted thanks from union and company officials for his efforts to help reopen the idled Sparrows Point RG Steel plant.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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