- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Top aides to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday said Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley’s criticism of the tunnel closings in Baltimore was misdirected and another example of the mayor’s snap criticism of the administration.

“Mr. O’Malley is whining about something. We’ve come to expect that,” said Paul E. Schurick, communications director and senior adviser to Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican. “Apparently, his own police department left him out of the loop. If he wants to whine, he should whine to them.”

Mr. O’Malley, who is running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Mr. Ehrlich next year, complained Tuesday that he did not know about the tunnel closures until he was told by news reporters.

“We could have handled it better if we had more notice,” he said.

The Maryland Transportation Authority Police Department decided late Tuesday morning to close the Harbor Tunnel and sections of Interstate 95 and to restrict traffic in the Fort McHenry Tunnel for about 90 minutes because of a tip about a terrorist plot to use a car bomb to blow up one of the tunnels.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said yesterday that a Jordanian man and four Egyptian men were arrested Tuesday for being in the country illegally and face deportation. However, there likely was not enough evidence to link them to the plot.

Transportation authority police Chief Gary W. McLhinney said he made the decision, which resulted in miles of traffic jams on the major East Coast thoroughfares, after consulting with the Baltimore FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes Baltimore city and Baltimore County police officials and state and federal authorities.

He also said a test run was conducted Monday at about 3 a.m.

Mr. Ehrlich said late Tuesday that federal, state and local officials conducted a “seamless” operation and that it “truly was a joint effort.”

Baltimore city police were present at an 8 a.m. briefing that included a discussion about closing the tunnels and were present when the decision was announced, state officials said.

The Washington Times has requested a copy of the sign-in log for the briefing. The Ehrlich administration said it does not have a copy, and transit police said they would not release the document.

“I think it’s sad that the mayor would inject politics into something as important as this,” Ehrlich press secretary Greg Massoni said.

A Baltimore official confirmed yesterday that a city police official was at the meeting at which the decision about the closures was made. However, the Baltimore official said, the state implemented the closures immediately, giving the city no time to prepare a response.

The closures became a media event before the information reached the mayor through the city’s chain of command, the Baltimore official said.

Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. O’Malley have been positioning themselves as strong on homeland security. It could be an issue in next year’s campaign if the mayor defeats Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan in the Democratic primary.

Mr. Duncan is to announce his candidacy this morning.

Mr. O’Malley rarely misses an opportunity to criticize the governor.

He has blamed the administration for spreading marital infidelity rumors about him, balked at Mr. Ehrlich’s offer to bail out the city’s bankrupt public school system and faulted the governor for not giving enough support to state-funded stem-cell research.

Mr. O’Malley attempted yesterday to clarify his complaints about the tunnel closures.

“Ninety percent of a very complicated operation went very well,” he said.

However, city officials could have mobilized better and accommodated the diversion of traffic from the tunnels if they had known earlier, he said.

“How can I look you all in the eye and say honestly that gridlock was a good thing and that we couldn’t have handled it better?” Mr. O’Malley said.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, said yesterday he had spoken with Mr. O’Malley and hoped politics did not play a part in the lack of communication.

“That is disturbing to me because it’s very important that every level of government be involved in things like this,” Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Williams has complained several times that D.C. officials were among the last to know about federal responses to terror alerts, including street closings and, most recently, the May 11 incident in which a private airplane mistakenly flew into restricted airspace.

Matthew Cella contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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