Two prominent Baltimore Democratic fund-raisers have joined Montgomery's county executive in his campaign to discourage Mayor Martin O'Malley from joining the race for governor - not through threats or insults, but by praising him for good work that shouldn't be left unfinished.
"With Doug Duncan as governor and Mayor O'Malley at the helm of our city, we are confident that our best days are before us," write Calman J. "Buddy" Zamoiski Jr., Thomas Segal and their wives in an invitation to a Dec. 14 fund-raiser for Montgomery's county executive.
As Douglas M. Duncan prepares for his latest fund-raising foray on O'Malley's turf next week, the letter bolsters a strategy designed by Duncan's team to spread a message that the city needs the mayor's skillful leadership so much that he couldn't possibly abandon Baltimore for Annapolis.
And he's using O'Malley's own words as ammunition.
O'Malley said in his inauguration speech Tuesday that his administration has unfinished business in Baltimore. "Our work is not done, because better isn't good enough."
Duncan keyed on that theme this week, as he did earlier this month after O'Malley characterized the city's crime and schools as "out of control" in an internal e-mail.
The three-term Montgomery county executive used both instances to pursue a tactic of saying that O'Malley should not let Baltimore down by trying to go to Annapolis if his goals for the city aren't fulfilled.
"He talked [Tuesday] about all his unfinished business," Duncan said. "What [my Baltimore supporters] are saying is that there is work to be done in the city and that he needs to finish the job."
Duncan has enlisted the two prominent Democratic donors to add weight to his words. The donors, who are holding a downtown fund-raising cocktail party, say in the invitation that they support O'Malley's efforts as mayor but that Baltimore-area Democrats should back Duncan for governor.
"Our family has been lifelong Democrats and we believe this is a critical time for our city and state. We wish to see Mayor O'Malley continue to lead our city. He will have our unwavering support," states the letter signed also by the donors' wives, Ellen Zamoiski and Clair Zamoiski Segal, who is Buddy Zamoiski's daughter.
The letter states their full support for Duncan's "bid to become our next governor."
Political experts, including O'Malley, say the unfinished-business strategy will have no effect on whether the mayor runs for governor in 2006.
"Whether or not he says I'm running has no bearing on whether I run or not," O'Malley said. "Perhaps he thinks it's helpful to his efforts to try to dampen any enthusiasm there may be around the state for me."
Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University, said Duncan's message is unlikely to resonate deeply. A mayor can easily make the case that he or she can help the city more by delivering assistance from Annapolis, Crenson said.
"People who follow Baltimore politics know how much damage can occur when there is a rift between the mayor and the governor," Crenson said. When a mayor goes to Annapolis, that rift fades.
Duncan is trying to dampen O'Malley's hometown support, despite the mayor's overwhelming 87 percent election victory last month and polls showing that O'Malley could easily defeat Duncan for the gubernatorial nomination if the contest were held today.
A statewide survey conducted for The Sun in late October showed that O'Malley would beat Duncan, 52 percent to 36 percent, in a Democratic primary. Duncan's name recognition was much lower, with 47 percent of registered voters saying they had not heard of the Montgomery executive, compared with 29 percent who did not know of the mayor.
Still, Duncan has made significant inroads with powerful supporters in Baltimore, including Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, developer David Hillman and state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. Now, Zamoiski and Segal join the list.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Duncan is smart to make as many connections as he can in Baltimore, where his name recognition is low. "It's absolutely necessary if he is going to have a shot at winning the primary or the general election to make huge inroads in Baltimore," Miller said.
As a former Washington-area county executive eyeing a run for governor, Prince George's County's Parris N. Glendening did it over and over, Miller said.
Duncan and Buddy Zamoiski have a personal relationship, Miller said, which stems from the county executive's support of the Music Center at Strathmore in Montgomery County. The 2,000-seat facility is to open to the public in February as a Washington-area venue for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Zamoiski was a longtime orchestra board member, serving two stints as chairman before resigning last month.
"Duncan went to bat for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra," Miller said. "I'm sure Buddy Zamoiski enjoys dealing with him."
Duncan said he has repeatedly heard the sentiment that Zamoiski included in the fund-raising letter as he builds relationships in Baltimore.
As proof of the work O'Malley still has to do, Duncan has pointed to an internal e-mail written by the mayor this fall saying that Baltimore is "in the midst of a shooting and murder wave with juveniles dying and schools out of control."
Duncan said O'Malley "has to make a decision on what he wants to do."
"I'm moving forward with my plans," Duncan said. "Every time I go to Baltimore I'm getting a warmer reception."
O'Malley said he is happy to hear Duncan is "pointing out how effective our administration has been," and thanked Zamoiski for his "qualified" praise.
"This is an insider, high-donor speculation game that I don't want to engage in," O'Malley said. "There are all sorts of games within the game early in the game that are played, and that's what this is."
O'Malley, who hails from Montgomery County, has not had time in an election year to make as many trips to the Washington suburbs as Duncan has made to Baltimore. But O'Malley attended an event this week for senior citizens that was conducted by the Prince George's county executive.
By enlisting the Zamoiskis and Segals, Duncan is turning to contributors who have been valuable allies to politicians.
State Board of Elections records show the Zamoiskis have given nearly $31,000 since 1999, including $6,000 to O'Malley and $3,000 to Duncan. Buddy Zamoiski gave $1,000 to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. a year ago.
Segal, owner of Thomas Segal Gallery, and his wife have given nearly $17,000 since 1999, including $6,000 to O'Malley from 1999 to 2003, state records show. Clair Segal is a board member for the Baltimore School for the Arts and runs a fund-raising consulting business.
Zamoiski's wife, Ellen, said he was out of the country and refused to comment. Thomas Segal and his wife declined to comment.
Since 1999, O'Malley has raised $6.3 million for his campaign committee, according to state records. Duncan has raised $2.3 million. Updated filings are due next month.
Miller said O'Malley should mend relations with Angelos and Schaefer, not worry about Zamoiski.
"O'Malley has other fish to fry," Miller said.