Political Notebook: O'Malley, Ehrlich blitzed Columbia in final days

Residents and staff at a Columbia assisted-living facility got front-row seats to the political show put on by Maryland's competing campaigns, as candidates from both sides blitzed the county in the long election season's waning days.

Mary Kane, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, arrived at the 99-bed Brighton Gardens assisted-living facility off Snowden River Parkway at Minstrel Way on Sunday to find a smiling Gov. Martin O'Malley, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, all Democrats, depicted standing with more than 30 staff members on a large photo poster in the lobby. The poster was a memento of the Democratic team's visit there three days earlier.

Diane Sendlenski, the facility's director of nursing and an Air Force veteran who heads American Legion Post 300, was feted as one of O'Malley's "hometown heroes" for her post's efforts to send packages of cookies and personal items to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Democrats, further bolstered by local elected officials, temporarily festooned the facility lobby with campaign signs and took lots of time to talk to the staff and to pose for photos with them. The photo poster was ordered by the facility from a photo taken by a staff photographer, said Brighton Gardens marketing director Will Clark.

Most residents who wanted to vote did so earlier by absentee ballot, though 86-year old George Finkeldie, president of the residents council, said his daughter was taking him to vote on Election Day. After listening to speeches from both sides, he said, "I'm torn. O'Malley's entrenched. He seems to be doing a good job." But the retired AT&T marketing executive liked Ehrlich's pro-business message, too. The Democrats did their best to tailor their message to residents and staff on what they've accomplished in health care and education.

Finkeldie remembered Sunday that O'Malley had talked about his father's World War II service in a B-24 Liberator bomber. Finkeldie said he had the same experience during the war. Mikulski, who last year had a badly broken ankle, talked about her difficult recovery with the aid of "certified nursing assistants. I know what it's like to be in a wheelchair. I know what it's like to use a walker."

She tried to charm her audience with a story about how O'Malley was her campaign field director when she first ran for the Senate in 1986. "I knew him when he had more law books than ties," she cracked, relating how he quickly abandoned his duties after seeing a young Katie Curran with her father, former Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran. "I won the election, and he won Katie," Mikulski said of the current judge and first lady Katie O'Malley.

The Democratic onslaught was arranged because an O'Malley campaign aide had relatives who had lived at Brighton Gardens, and Clark said he felt it only fair to invite the Ehrlich camp, too. Kane accepted.

The contrast was evident. Kane showed up with one aide, without an entourage of supporters or local elected officials, and moved quietly around the much less crowded room, greeting each of 16 residents. She also spoke to one or two staff members.

"Bob Ehrlich and I would like to have your vote for us," she said, explaining that he had been governor before and she had been Maryland's secretary of state, but they were forced from office "because of a wave of anti-Republican" sentiment among voters.

She stuck to Republican talking points, advocating a "business-friendly atmosphere" and said she and Ehrlich don't want Maryland to become a state like Michigan, which has one of the worst unemployment rates in the nation. Expansion of health care is hurting business, she said. "They're afraid to expand. They don't know what to do." The big poster was sporting a couple of small Ehrlich fliers by the time Kane left.

Saturday evening, O'Malley headlined a big Democratic rally at the Columbia lakefront, a last try at energizing the party faithful to turn out the vote Tuesday. Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., had visited the county repeatedly, including holding one of his small-business discussions Oct. 18 at Pizza Hut corporate headquarters on Oakland Mills Road to talk about health care.

Mikulski walked slowly down the promenade in front of Clyde's restaurant, stopping at each window to wave to surprised diners inside, and stopping to speak to an employee who came out to see her. Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Ulman, and a clutch of county elected officials and campaign workers were there in the chilly wind.

As is often the case, Rep. Elijah Cummings set the rhetorical tone with a call to action and defiance of national trends. In Maryland, he said, officials strongly favor health care reform.

"There's no enthusiasm gap," Cummings said, referring to predictions by pundits that Republicans are more energized this year. "We need to send a message. The headlines should say, "Maryland sent a message. We are going forward. We're not going backward. I'm tired of these people saying, 'Take our country back.' Where we going?" he asked the cheering crowd.

Ehrlich's visit to Pizza Hut corporate offices came the day after a big GOP picnic and rally at the Circle D farm in Glenwood, in the western county. He used the Pizza Hut visit to criticize the national health care reform law, saying it will be too expensive for small businesses, whose owners are anxious about the potential cost of insuring employees or paying fines.

"We tend in our culture to emphasize life — to have you live longer," he told a small group of seven business people in a small conference room. "This health care bill goes the other way," he said, characterizing it as "European, Canadian-style medical care. He said that under the new law, if a 50-year-old woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she'd be treated, but if a 75-year old woman gets the same diagnosis, she'd be told that "we'll treat your pain."

Asked about those comments later, Howard County health officer Dr. Peter Beilenson said Ehrlich's assertion is "completely false," adding that nothing like that is in the bill, and that medical decisions would be made by patients and their doctors.


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