- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

BALTIMORE Maryland Republicans are set to kick off a five-day, $900,000 party to celebrate the inauguration of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as governor.
It's a shindig Republicans have been waiting 36 years to throw.
Party officials say there is plenty of demand for a blowout. They sold all 4,000 tickets, at $100 each, for an inaugural ball at the Baltimore Convention Center so organizers arranged a second inaugural ball at Oriole Park at Camden Yards at the same time, Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said yesterday.
Up to 2,000 people are expected to attend the party at the Baltimore Orioles' ball park, with tickets also going for $100.
"It's a really nice problem to have," Mr. Ehrlich said of the high interest. "But it is a problem."
Organizers also are planning a mock swearing-in ceremony for children, a parade in Mr. Ehrlich's hometown of Arbutus, two concerts, a prayer breakfast and a church reception after a Mass.
Many of the new events were planned to celebrate the historic election of Michael S. Steele as the state's first black lieutenant governor, Mr. Ehrlich said. He also conceded that the celebration was growing because there was "a lot of pent-up demand" among Republicans.
"I really approve of him having a big deal," said state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat whose inaugurations as governor in 1987 and 1991 were more low key. "Republicans are in office for the first time in a long time, and I think they ought to go to every effort to make it a special event."
Private donations are paying for the inaugural events, said Carl Wright, chairman of the inaugural committee. Fifteen corporate sponsorships of $20,000 will pay a third of the total budget, he said.
The business sponsorships start at $1,000, but smaller donations from individuals are pouring in as well, Mr. Wright said.
Tickets for all seven events are first-come, first-served, according to organizers, who said even Democrats are moving past Mr. Ehrlich's defeat of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in November and are planning to attend events celebrating the inauguration.
"On both sides of the aisle, we're getting people that are not groveling," said John Kane, chairman of the state Republican Party. "They're saying, 'The guy won. We're excited about his leadership,' and they're stepping up to pay $100 to celebrate with him."
Not since 1967 has Maryland sworn in a Republican governor, and the state's "closet Republicans" now can show their enthusiasm for new leadership, Mr. Kane said.
"I think for three decades, they've been marooned. Now one guy and his lieutenant governor have thrown a rope to them," said Mr. Kane, who organized a preinaugural, $200-a-head ball Monday in Washington for members of Congress who wanted to wish former colleague Mr. Ehrlich well.
Mr. Wright said the committee, which established a Web site for people attending, is getting calls from enthusiastic Ehrlich supporters from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore. Organizers mailed 12,000 invitations for the ball; 4,000 tickets were available.
And Ehrlich fans who didn't receive an invitation need only to call the committee for an invitation, Mr. Wright said.
"Bobby is a very popular fellow, I think," Mr. Wright said. "He's affable, likable and people expect him to be a great governor and they just want to celebrate with him."
Mr. Wright said he wasn't keeping records of how many Democrats were interested in attending events.
But Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson shrugged off suggestions that his party's faithful are vying for tickets to a gala or any other event honoring Mr. Ehrlich.
"There is no one right way to respond to these invitations," Mr. Paulson said. "Democrats who want to go will do so out of respect."
The tab for Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening's parties to celebrate his 1998 re-election reached $865,000, according to articles in the Baltimore Sun. That's about twice the bill for his inauguration festivities four years earlier.
Mr. Paulson criticized Mr. Ehrlich's inaugural events as "style, flash and very little substance."
But Mr. Ehrlich's inauguration week is symbolic of the inclusiveness of his administration, Miss DeLeaver said.
Mr. Schaefer said he trusts Mr. Ehrlich's administration not to be swayed by corporations that sponsor his inauguration week.
"I think the corporations just do that to get their name on the list of contributors," Mr. Schaefer said. "I don't think that affects him at all. He'll play it straight."
He added that he will encourage fellow Democrats to celebrate Mr. Ehrlich's inauguration.
"Every Democrat ought to work with him to make him successful. I know I am," Mr. Schaefer said.

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