Politics may have derailed Floyd R. Blair's chance at permanently serving as Baltimore's social services chief. But the tug-of-war over his appointment between Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democratic Mayor Martin O'Malley ended ideally for Blair yesterday: Instead of losing a job, he landed a promotion.
In a surprise move that quelled a yearlong dispute over Blair's role as interim director of Baltimore's social services agency, Ehrlich promoted him to oversee all such local agencies in Maryland. As deputy secretary for operations at the Department of Human Resources, Blair will help manage the day-to-day operations of the state's 24 local social services offices.
"I'm delighted that the governor saw fit to promote Floyd to this significant role on a statewide basis," said Christopher J. McCabe, Maryland's human resources secretary.
Blair immediately withdrew his name from consideration to serve as the permanent director of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services - an unlikely outcome considering O'Malley's opposition to Blair since the Ehrlich administration appointed him in September last year without the mayor's consent.
O'Malley responded yesterday with a one-line statement released from his press office: "That appointment is the sole prerogative of the secretary and we wish [Blair] well in his new position and we look forward to working with him."
But Ehrlich's political one-upmanship was not lost on political observers who believe Ehrlich and O'Malley might face off in the 2006 gubernatorial race.
"I think this is another case of Ehrlich's thumb in O'Malley's eye," said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University.
Lenneal J. Henderson, a professor at the University of Baltimore's School of Public Affairs, agreed and called Ehrlich's move "shrewd."
"This is about whose game plan is going to prevail in the intergovernmental tug of war between the mayor and the governor over social services," Henderson said.
Blair said the governor surprised him yesterday when he called to tell him of the promotion. The position of deputy secretary for operations is not new, but McCabe has not filled it since he took office early last year.
Blair said he looked forward to applying his skills on a statewide basis and that he would continue to monitor the work he started in Baltimore.
"I'm in a capacity to basically watch over and make sure that the improvements that we have made at Baltimore [social services department] are continued," he said.
The political battle over Blair began when, against O'Malley's wishes, McCabe appointed Blair as interim director of DSS, a primarily state-funded agency that serves more than 50,000 city children and adults. In November, O'Malley filed a lawsuit seeking Blair's removal. A city Circuit County judge sided with the mayor in July and gave the state and city 45 days to agree on someone to lead the agency.
The Aug. 26 deadline came and went without a new director being named by a six-member panel composed equally of Ehrlich and O'Malley appointees. The panel is close to naming a new director, McCabe and city officials said yesterday. Blair will continue as interim director until the final decision is made.
McCabe challenged O'Malley's assertion that Blair was not qualified for the city job by saying yesterday that the six-person panel unanimously recommended Blair as a finalist. City officials said the panel's local representatives agreed to forward Blair's name as a courtesy to the state members who demanded Blair be considered.
Blair interviewed with O'Malley on Wednesday, a meeting that Blair said continued a year of insults.
He said O'Malley left the room and sent in several staff members who Blair said proceeded with an interview that "turned into an inquisition." He said the mayor returned but was "disinterested."
An O'Malley spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese, said the mayor would not respond to Blair's comments.