- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

Former Maryland gubernatorial candidate Douglas M. Duncan says the O’Malley administration delivered a series of threats — including having him fired from the University of Maryland — if he attends a business dinner to talk with former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. about the presidential campaign.

Mr. Duncan, a Democrat and a vice president at the university, said the message was delivered by Patrick J. Hogan, a University System of Maryland lobbyist and former Democratic state senator.

“He told me the governor’s office said I cannot go … and talk about presidential politics at the same time as Bob Ehrlich,” Mr. Duncan, a former Montgomery County executive, told The Washington Times.

State law broadly allows state workers to do political activities outside of work, according to an opinion issued by the State Ethics Commission, as long as they don’t use state resources.

Robert A. Hahn, general counsel for the State Ethics Commission, said Wednesday he could not recall an instance in which a state employee was barred by superiors from doing political events.

Mr. Hogan said he was never under orders from the governor’s office to threaten Mr. Duncan and that he never talked with anyone from the governor’s office about the event.

“I think he’s reading much more into a conversation than was factual,” Mr. Hogan said.

In addition to potentially losing his job, Mr. Duncan said, Mr. Hogan told him that attending the Hagerstown Chamber of Commerce event next month also could result in having key university construction projects cut from the state budget and that he would have to further fall in line with the state Democratic Party — claims Mr. Hogan also denied.

“I’m supposed to call [Montgomery County Executive] Ike Leggett and apologize for criticizing his private bathroom expense and promise not to undermine him when he support slots in the county,” Mr. Duncan said.

Mr. Leggett, who succeeded Mr. Duncan as county executive,wanted to build a $65,000 bathroom in his office when the county was facing a massive budget shortfall.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, is counting on Mr. Leggett, a Democrat, to support his slots plan in Montgomery County, where legalized gambling is highly unpopular.

“If the governor says don’t show up as a state employee, I’m not going to show up,” Mr. Duncan said.

However, he said he has no plans to apologize to Mr. Leggett.

Many former Duncan staffers went to work with state Comptroller Peter Franchot, a frequent critic of Mr. O’Malley’s policies, and former Duncan campaign manager Scott Arceneaux is leading the drive against Mr. O’Malley’s slots initiative.

Mr. O’Malley won the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2006 after Mr. Duncan dropped out, citing clinical depression. Mr. O’Malley defeated Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, in the general election.

While Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Ehrlich have criticized each other in public — adding to speculation that Mr. Ehrlich might run against Mr. O’Malley in 2010 — Mr. Duncan has maintained a low profile, working on university projects and occasionally speaking before small groups.

Mr. Hogan said he met with Mr. Duncan to counsel him on the transition from being an elected official to being a public servant and that he was trying to provide advice that would be beneficial to the university.

O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese referred questions Wednesday about the story to the University System of Maryland.

The Hagerstown appearance was set to be one of Mr. Duncan’s first public political appearances since leaving office two years ago.

Brien Poffenberger, president of the Hagerstown Chamber of Commerce, said he was disappointed when Mr. Duncan called Tuesday to say he would not be able to attend. “I don’t understand the strategy of reeling Doug Duncan back in,” he said.

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