Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said yesterday he will endorse Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley in the governor's race, and he complained that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has ignored his calls and letters for years.
Smith said he will endorse O'Malley at a rally this morning at the Community College of Baltimore County's Essex campus and then campaign door to door with the mayor in Randallstown.
"I am interested in what is best in Baltimore County, and Martin O'Malley is best in Baltimore County," Smith said, calling the mayor a "stand-up guy who has great courage, great energy and great vision."
Smith said he has tried to contact Ehrlich, the Republican incumbent in the governor's race, about numerous issues, including juvenile detention centers and security at a light rail station. A spokesman for the governor responded that the state has been attentive to the county's needs, providing record school funding.
Smith's support of O'Malley is not a surprise -- they are both Democrats who say they have worked well together on regional issues.
But political observers say Smith, a 64-year-old Democrat seeking his second term as executive, could sway some voters in a county considered a key battleground in the governor's race. In 2002, Ehrlich secured almost his entire margin of victory in the county.
"The endorsement of the top elected official of a jurisdiction the size of Baltimore County, as important as Baltimore County, is always significant," said David Weaver, a spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat who dropped out of the governor's race in June. "A popular county executive can definitely move votes. ... They lend credibility to the candidate that they're endorsing in their hometown."
Other observers and political scientists said the effect might be limited because it is expected that candidates from the same party will support each other.
Smith said he did not want to formally endorse O'Malley until after he launched his own campaign this month.
"I didn't get engaged in worrying about endorsements until I got my own government responsibilities in order and my own campaign in order," Smith said.
O'Malley said: "There's a lot of people in Baltimore County that have a tremendous amount of respect for Jim Smith, and there are both Republicans and Democrats alike."
During a phone interview yesterday, Smith said his relationship with Ehrlich has been icy since late 2003, when Smith criticized then-Maryland Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Red- mer Jr.'s handling of complaints in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isabel. Redmer had been appointed by Ehrlich.
Smith said that since then, he and Ehrlich have barely talked.
"The governor chooses to have no communication with me," Smith said.
Smith said he has contacted Ehrlich about a number of community concerns, including reform of juvenile detention centers and a proposed liquefied natural gas facility at Sparrows Point. He said no one from Ehrlich's office has gotten back to him.
A spokesman for Ehrlich said he could not say whether the governor has responded to Smith's correspondence over the years, but he added that Ehrlich has been attentive to county residents' needs.
"The county executive has every right to be thrilled that Governor Ehrlich has provided Baltimore County record school funding, record school construction funding, and has fought for months to prevent a liquefied natural gas facility" from being built in the county, said Henry Fawell, the spokesman. "Governor Ehrlich's priorities are Baltimore County's priorities. They always have been, they always will be."