Md. firefighters back O'Malley

The Baltimore Sun

Yesterday was not the happiest day for Mayor Martin O'Malley's campaign for Maryland governor.

In the same day, O'Malley had to field questions about his 1987 arrest for drunken driving, which resulted in a not-guilty finding, and bemoan The Washington Post's endorsement of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

But the state's firefighter union announced it was backing O'Malley. The endorsement also included Baltimore's two firefighter groups, which have had a rocky relationship with O'Malley and which had broken from the state umbrella group by supporting Ehrlich in 2002.

"We're disappointed we didn't get the Post endorsement," O'Malley told a group of more than 50 supporters at a union hall in Baltimore yesterday. "But I think the firefighters are going to be out there with a lot more pull."

Ehrlich's campaign appeared energized by the Post's endorsement, although the paper's editorial board did express some reservations about the governor's leadership ability and included a number of compliments for the mayor. Ehrlich came to Baltimore yesterday to compare his record on education with O'Malley's, but afterward, the talk was all about the endorsement, which he said came as a surprise.

"It's a big deal," he said. "Obviously, the Post has a lot of influence in the Washington suburbs. The fact that they ... based their decision on our policy successes, that's a big deal as an incumbent." The Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland, a union that represents 6,000 workers statewide, had endorsed Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan when he was challenging O'Malley for the Democratic primary. Duncan dropped out, and union officials said they based their decision to back O'Malley over Ehrlich because the mayor would pursue their best interests in Annapolis.

Bob Jordan, treasurer for Baltimore City Fire Officers Local 964, said Ehrlich told the state group at a Sept. 21 interview that he did not care what the AFL-CIO's labor leaders thought about issues.

O'Malley has received far more labor endorsements in this year's election, but Ehrlich did secure the backing of the state's Fraternal Order of Police. "We are proud to have the support of those who represent Maryland's first-responders," said Shareese N. DeLeaver, Ehrlich's spokeswoman.

Firefighters said O'Malley was the candidate who was best suited to meet their needs. "O'Malley will put our members' safety first," said Michael Rund, vice president of the state group and a Carroll County firefighter.

Meanwhile, the three men vying to replace retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes traded policy positions and potshots at a downtown candidates forum yesterday organized by the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations.

The candidates each answered the same five questions, but the one-at-a-time format spared them from having to share the stage, or even the waterfront Marriott hotel, at the same time.

When asked his position on escalating health care costs and the feasibility of a universal health insurance system, Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said, "I do not want the person who runs the DMV to run my health care," drawing the first laughs of the evening. Steele said many of the 46 million uninsured Americans would benefit from policies he supports that would allow small business owners to pool their resources and negotiate for lower rates from private insurance companies.

Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin said he supported the type of market-based reform recently shepherded through the Massachusetts legislature by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, which claims to guarantee health care for all residents, but requires uninsured individuals to purchase their own policies if they can afford it.

Third-party candidate Kevin Zeese drew the most applause when he called for guaranteed national health insurance for

Candidates today

O'Malley -- 9 a.m., attend announcement of demolition of former public housing at intersection of Swann and Old Frederick roads in Baltimore; 11 a.m., meet with students at Cecil Community College, 1 Seahawk Drive in North East; 1 p.m., visit Aberdeen Senior Center, 7 Franklin St. in Aberdeen; 1:45 p.m., meet with officials at Aberdeen City Hall, then visit Brightview assisted-living center in Bel Air.

Ehrlich -- 2:30 p.m., announce sex offender enforcement plan at Montgomery County Police Department's 4th District station, 2300 Randolph Road in Wheaton.

Steele -- 7 p.m., attend candidates forum hosted by Charles County NAACP at New Community Church of God in Christ at 12435-C Mattawoman Dr. in Waldorf.

Cardin -- Public schedule not available.

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