- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

TIMONIUM, Md. — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley yesterday traded pointed criticisms during their first public debate since Tuesday’s primary elections.

The sharpest barbs delivered at AARP’s candidate forum involved Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s (BGE) increase in residential energy rates this summer.

“You would have hoped … the governor of Maryland would have stepped up and done something about it,” Mr. O’Malley, the Democratic nominee for governor, told the crowd of about 200 in a ballroom at the Holiday Inn Select. “There is something wrong here, folks. This isn’t even a fair fight when your government isn’t even on your side any more.”

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election, said the mayor was trying to deflect blame from the Democrat-controlled legislature’s flawed 1999 deregulation laws that caused the crisis.

“Demonization and pseudo-populism sounds good in this room, but it is not the facts,” he said. “In 1999, you were the mayor. … I guess you could have had an opinion with respect to the way they conducted that process. You failed to do that.”

The governor also noted that Mr. O’Malley’s brother-in-law, J. Joseph “Max” Curran III, was a member of the utility-regulating Public Service Commission that approved the 1999 deregulation laws.

The 1999 deregulation law capped BGE rates below market levels for six years as energy prices increased. The caps expired July 1, and the shift to market prices would have resulted in a 72 percent increase in rates had the legislature not intervened.

The two men, who were the only candidates in the debate, also clashed over health care, education and crime in Baltimore.

Mr. Ehrlich said Mr. O’Malley glossed over troubles in Baltimore’s “dysfunctional” school system and manipulated police data to hide the city’s crime problem.

Mr. O’Malley, who often notes the city’s rising elementary-school test scores and crime rates that are at a 40-year low, said Mr. Ehrlich was perpetuating “unhealthy stereotypes.” He vowed to never denigrate any part of the state if elected governor.

A chorus of moans and jeering erupted from the audience when Mr. O’Malley touted the “progress” made in Baltimore during his seven years as mayor.

Laurence Friedel, 67, a retired plumber who took an AARP bus from Hooper’s Island on the Eastern Shore to attend the debate, said he was swayed more by the audience than by the candidates.

“I heard some things from the crowd that made it sound like [Mr. O’Malley] wasn’t telling the truth,” he said.

During the debate, Mr. Ehrlich often used the term “pseudo-populism” to describe Mr. O’Malley’s rhetoric.

“That’s not leadership. That’s not the truth,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “This election is about the truth and the truth will win out.”

Mr. O’Malley responded: “Yes, it will.”

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