Venturing into strongholds

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland's candidates for governor ventured yesterday into territory where their opponent is strong, with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley observing how a Harford County city plans to use a statistical tracking program he pioneered and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the Washington suburbs promoting new technology to follow sex offenders. In the race for U.S. Senate, Republican nominee Michael S. Steele accused Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin of avoiding a debate last night sponsored by the Charles County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Cardin's campaign said the congressman had other commitments and was willing to debate Steele tomorrow at the NAACP's annual state conference in Baltimore.

Steele never responded to requests to participate in the annual conference, said Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the NAACP's Baltimore branch.

As part of a swing through Harford and Cecil counties - which Ehrlich took handily in 2002 - O'Malley and running mate Del. Anthony G. Brown visited Aberdeen yesterday.

Police Chief Randy M. Rudy demonstrated how the city uses statistical analysis similar to Baltimore's CitiStat program to track crime and city services - techniques Rudy and Mayor S. Fred Simmons, a Republican, picked up after meeting with O'Malley and city officials in July.

A city councilman delivered a formal proclamation from Simmons thanking O'Malley for helping to establish the program - which the mayor says has driven down overtime and worker compensation costs in Baltimore.

"Martin O'Malley has done more for the city of Aberdeen and municipalities in general than any elected official in the state," said Simmons, who was in Florida yesterday and did not attend the event. "I think it's a much tougher job to be mayor of Baltimore than governor of Maryland."

As has been his practice for most of the election season, Ehrlich got his message out by announcing a government program rather than campaigning overtly.

The topic, using new technology to find and track sex offenders, is politically popular, and Ehrlich, O'Malley and other politicians from both parties have made a push for tougher sex-offender restrictions in recent months. Yesterday, Ehrlich stood before uniformed police officers in Montgomery County and proclaimed his administration's successes. But, he insisted, it wasn't politics that brought him there.

"I really hope the press is here for this announcement and not campaign stuff," Ehrlich said. "Campaigns come and go, but this issue stays."

Ehrlich announced $250,000 grants to local police departments to help them implement sex-offender-tracking technology.

When Ehrlich launched his re-election bid last summer, he said that as an incumbent he would not campaign in the traditional sense, and, largely, he has done that. "This campaign is about governing," he said.

In the Senate race, debate yesterday centered on debates. Hoping to capitalize on his opponent's stumble in a debate this week in which Cardin could not identify the route of a proposed Purple Line transit route in the Washington suburbs, Steele took the Red Line from Washington to the Grosvenor-Strathmore station to demonstrate his commitment to regional transportation issues.

"I thought it was important to place emphasis on the role a senator can play in building out the transportation network," Steele said.

Asked if it is necessary for a senator to know such details as proposed subway stops, Steele boomed, "Absolutely!"

In a statement issued later in the day, Steele said he was "disappointed" that Cardin would not appear in Charles County last night and criticized his opponent's performance in a debate televised on Maryland Public Television on Wednesday night.

Cardin spokesman Oren Shur said: "Michael Steele will not dictate our schedule. While Ben Cardin has participated in more than a dozen candidate debates, Michael Steele has been avoiding a real discussion on the issues for more than a year."

"The NAACP and its members are very important to Ben Cardin, and that's why he has accepted an invitation to debate before the statewide conference on Saturday," Shur said. "We expect to see Michael Steele there."

Doug Heye, a Steele spokesman, said, "The campaign has not had any discussions with the organizers."

Candidates today

Ehrlich -- 6:30 p.m., remarks at Maryland's Top 10 Women and Minority Business Awards Ceremony, University of Maryland University College Inn and Conference Center, 3501 University Blvd. East, Adelphi.

O'Malley -- 7 a.m., greet commuters, Bethesda Metro station; 11:30 a.m., receive endorsement of Baltimore chapter of the National Black Police Association, AFCSME Local 3661 Chapter of Parole and Probation Officers, War Memorial Plaza, Fayette and Gay streets, Baltimore; 1 p.m., attend event at Islamic Society of Baltimore, 6631 Johnnycake Road, Windsor Mill.

Steele -- 11 a.m., Web chat on

Cardin -- 6:30 a.m., greet employees during shift change at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, 600 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore; 10:30 a.m., greet voters at the Spot Coffee House, 51 Piney Narrows Road, Chester; 11:30 a.m., tour Easton Utilities water treatment plant, 201 N. Washington St.; Easton; 1:30, meet with Salisbury University college students, Scarborough Leadership Center, 1101 Camden Ave.,

Sun reporters Rona Marech and Jennifer Skalka contributed to this article.

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