Democrat Brewster rips Ehrlich as soft on crime


Is Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.-- a respected, conservative eight-year veteran of the General Assembly -- a criminal-coddling friend of murderers?

Democrat Gerry L. Brewster, the Towson delegate and former prosecutor running for Congress in Maryland's 2nd District against Mr. Ehrlich, wants voters to think so.

Mr. Brewster has launched attacks on his Republican opponent aimed at persuading voters that Mr. Ehrlich is soft on crime -- even though the two men were named "Co-Legislator of the Year" by the state Fraternal Order of Police this year.

Brandishing an 18-page voting-record report compiled by his staff, Mr. Brewster lashed out at Mr. Ehrlich Tuesday in Towson, criticizing him for repeatedly voting on "behalf of career criminals."

"This is your record," Mr. Brewster said. "Your rhetoric does not match your record. You're soft on crime. I'm not."

"Gerry's really getting desperate, I'll tell you," said Mr. Ehrlich, who said his polls show he has a "comfortable" lead and that's why Mr. Brewster is attacking him.

And while defending himself, Mr. Ehrlich has fired a few shots in return, calling Mr. Brewster's news conference "phonier than a three-dollar bill" and alleging that Mr. Brewster has exaggerated his record as a prosecutor. He said Mr. Brewster mishandled cases and was demoted before leaving the Baltimore County state's attorney's office in 1988, a charge that Mr. Brewster denied.

The two state delegates, both lawyers and graduates of the Gilman School and Princeton University, are vying for the seat being vacated by Rep. Helen Delich Bentley.

At his news conference, Mr. Brewster attacked Mr. Ehrlich for repeatedly voting on "behalf of career criminals."

"In 1987, while I was out on the front lines trying to lock up criminals, my opponent voted to deny judges the opportunity to sentence murderers to life in prison without parole," Mr. Brewster said.

"In my view, that vote was unconscionable -- and is a clear reflection of my opponent's coddle-the-criminals attitude," Mr. Brewster said. He called Mr. Ehrlich a "convicted murderer's friend."

"It's just a silly bill for Gerry to pick," said Mr. Ehrlich, noting that he voted for an early version of that bill, but voted against the final version because he felt it weakened the state's death penalty law.

A perhaps more damaging attack on Mr. Ehrlich is the charge -- first aired in a 30-second television ad and repeated at the news conference -- that Mr. Ehrlich voted against a bill that would have prohibited family leave for convicted murderers.

In the ad, titled "Avon," a woman answers her doorbell to find a strapping, ski-masked man who forces his way into the house. "It's not the Avon Lady," an announcer intones. "Del. Bob Ehrlich voted to give family leave to convicted murderers, so they could go back into our communities. Gerry Brewster opposed family leave for murderers."

In his defense, Mr. Ehrlich said he opposed that bill, as did a majority of the House Judiciary Committee, because it would have kept older inmates -- those in their 60s, 70s and 80s -- in jail longer, occupying prison space that could be used for younger, more violent offenders.

Such a law also would have been declared unconstitutional, he said, because family leave and work release are integral parts of parole and probation, as ways of easing rehabilitated criminals back into society.

Mr. Brewster said the argument about older inmates taking up jail space is wrong, because "they come back after the weekend is over."

Mr. Ehrlich called Mr. Brewster an ineffective former prosecutor who overstates his record.

He said Mr. Brewster misled the public in an earlier radio ad about a 1986 case in which Sue Mathis of Essex was stabbed by her former husband. Mr. Brewster's ad implies a full trial and a 50-year jail sentence for the husband, Mr. Ehrlich said, when in fact the case was plea-bargained, and the man received a 50-year sentence, but with 35 years to serve -- a term later reduced to 30 years because of a Brewster mistake at sentencing.

Mr. Brewster denied that he made a mistake on the case , and noted that he had asked for a life sentence for the man.

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