Getting There: O'Malley should invite Ehrlich to ICC party

A guy who's just won his second term as governor of Maryland after twice getting himself elected mayor of Baltimore probably doesn't have much need for amateur political advice.

But what the heck. Here goes anyway.

Now that Martin O'Malley has won his second term as governor, he is assured of being the man with the scissors at the opening of the first section of the $2.5 billion Intercounty Connector late this year or early next.

It will be a great moment in the sun for the governor. But he could make that orb shine a little brighter with one simple gesture: inviting his defeated rival, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., to join him that day.

If you're a partisan Democrat, your first question might be, "Why should he?" Ehrlich gives every indication he detests O'Malley, and the governor has wasted few opportunities to show he reciprocates. There's been some history that O'Malley has good reason to resent: the scurrilous rumors traced back to an Ehrlich aide, hearing himself addressed as "gov" during a recent debate and being left to cool his heels in a State House hallway when he came seeking help from then-Governor Ehrlich for the city's schools.

All the more reason to invite Ehrlich.

Putting aside old grievances isn't just good for the soul, it can be smart politics.

First of all, it would recognize a historical fact: More than any other person, Ehrlich deserves credit — or blame if you opposed the project — for the ICC. He made it a centerpiece of his campaign for governor in 2002 and he brought the project back from the grave where Gov. Parris N. Glendening had consigned it. With the able help of his transportation secretary, Robert L. Flanagan, he steered it through the complexities of the federal approval process in a way that withstood the scrutiny of the federal courts. Ehrlich lined up the money for the project and got the General Assembly to sign off on the financing plan.

Whether you love or hate the ICC, if you're not blinded by passion, you've got to admit it was skillfully done. Some day, when he's old and gray and long past running for office, it would be just if the ICC were christened the Robert l. Ehrlich Jr. Highway. (Foes are free to shorten it to Bob's Folly.)

Since his election in 2006, O'Malley's role has been simply to keep the project on track. So far, it seems his administration has done that ably. If he hadn't, you would have heard it come up as an issue in the recent campaign.

But on the day the first segment between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue opens, and a year later when traffic starts flowing between there and Interstate 95, everyone who knows anything about the ICC will recognize it was not primarily O'Malley's achievement.

So the best strategy is to acknowledge that. Give credit where it's due. Share the spotlight. Make nice with Bob. And while the governor's at it, he could throw in invitations to Flanagan and former Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan as well. They're both longtime political adversaries of O'Malley whose political careers are on the skids. Yet both deserve to be at the opening for their critical roles in getting the ICC built.

There's really no downside to doing so. To extend the invitations would be a graceful gesture even if everybody knew the motive was political. Yes, O'Malley might have to fake sincerity that day, but that's something he's particularly good at. (That's not intended as an insult. All the best politicians of either party develop that skill. Woe to those who don't.)

How would Ehrlich react? He could refuse and look bitter in the process. O'Malley would lose nothing.

My suspicion is that Ehrlich would be happy to be invited. He has an ego, and the ICC's something he undoubtedly feels pride in. Plus, he's about to go through a process where a badly bruised Maryland Republican Party will be putting the Ehrlich era behind it. There's likely to be a lot of second-guessing and fault-finding from old allies over a lackluster campaign. Give him a month or two and he'll probably be ready for an occasion where folks are saying nice things about him — even if one of them is Martin O'Malley.

We know O'Malley is capable of changing the dynamic of a hostile relationship. Early in his first term, he decided it was smarter to work with schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick rather than do battle with her. It was a politically astute choice that served him well in the recent election.

It would be naive to think that O'Malley and Ehrlich would ever be friends, but that one occasion could at least serve to cool hostilities. Perhaps sometime in the future there will be an issue on which they could find temporary common ground. Stranger things have happened.

The best reason for O'Malley to invite Ehrlich is simply that it would stockpile some good political karma. That's something someone with O'Malley's ambitions will need in abundance.

Apart from that, it would be good for Maryland. This politics-weary state could use an afternoon's respite from the vituperation that has prevailed in recent years. It could use a sense that there are endeavors on which the parties can find common ground. And it would make for great pictures.

Now does anyone remember the words to "Kumbaya?"