Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. donned a government-issue jacket and cap. He threw a satchel over his left shoulder. He carried dog repellent.
He delivered the mail.
The freshman congressman from Maryland's 2nd District didn't exactly wear any holes in his wing-tips -- he delivered letters, bills and ads to only seven rowhouses near Eastpoint. Still, yesterday's first-hand look at a day in the life of an urban post office confirmed Mr. Ehrlich's view that privatizing the U.S. Postal Service probably isn't a good idea.
The visit yesterday to the Highlandtown Station, Baltimore 21224, was a field trip for Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican. For the federal employees who sort and deliver the mail, it was a lobbying effort.
And it all started with a letter written by letter carrier Bob Esders.
Mr. Esders, who delivers mail at Holabird Industrial Park and other areas of Dundalk, wrote the congressman to urge him to oppose a bill that would privatize the postal service. Mr. Ehrlich, after all, serves on a House subcommittee on the postal service.
Mr. Esders thought the congressman might be enlightened by a behind-the-scenes look. "I figured," he said, "he'd get a better idea of what we do and how hard we work."
Upon arriving about 8:30 a.m., Mr. Ehrlich wasted little time telling postal workers that they had little to fear from the proposed legislation.
"It's one of those annual bills that gets everybody excited, but, quite frankly, the political support is not there," he said.
The anxiety, he said, might stem in part from the Republican majority in Congress. But not even the biggest proponents of small government seem interested in getting the feds out of the mail business, he said.
The congressman delivered mail with letter carrier Jim Nida, who on this day was working a route listed at the post office as
No. 2442. Starting in the 500 block of 47th St., just off Eastern Avenue, they moved westward.
Mr. Nida, an 11-year veteran, gave the congressman a few tips. He told him to fold the mail inside the bulk mail newspaper ad supplements. He showed him how to lean over a railing and deliver mail to two houses on one trip.
And he showed him the letter carrier's most important tool, the dog spray.
"You know where all the dogs are?" Mr. Ehrlich asked.
"Oh, yeah," Mr. Nida said. "That's one thing you learn real fast."
During his tour, Mr. Ehrlich also was told that mail is measured in feet -- the Highlandtown station moves 1,200 feet a day during the holiday season. He saw how mail is sorted and prepped for delivery. He seemed most interested in a computerized system for keeping tabs on overnight mail.
Mr. Ehrlich conceded that mail delivery is the stuff of late night talk show monologues -- "We both take our hits -- both the politicians and the post office." He added that he'd been warned to expect calls from annoyed postal customers, but said the few complaints he gets are resolved.
"I have to tell you, I've been pretty impressed," he said.