Friday, September 7, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley yesterday criticized opponents of legalizing slot machines and Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, saying he would like to replace her as soon as possible.

When asked by a caller on a radio show why he supports slots after having called them “morally bankrupt” while serving as mayor of Baltimore, Mr. O’Malley said that he is ready to compromise and that state lawmakers should be too.

“I hope other members of the General Assembly will loosen up and realize that compromise is not a dirty word,” Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said on the “Marc Steiner Show.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, has been the biggest slots opponent among leaders in the Democrat-controlled Assembly. And he is now the main obstacle for holding a special Assembly session to resolve the state’s projected $1.5 billion shortfall, which likely would include discussions on using slots revenue to resolve the problem.

Mr. Busch was unavailable for comment.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a slots supporter, said Mr. O’Malley has yet to use his gubernatorial power to force Mr. Busch’s hand.

“The governor’s going to have to use the hammer of his office to deliver the final product,” said Mr. Miller, adding his office will become a second home to the governor in the coming months as they work to close the shortfall.

Mr. Miller, Southern Maryland Democrat, and Mr. O’Malley have allied in their support for slot machines and the special session.

Mr. O’Malley said he would like to replace Mrs. Grasmick because he does not trust her.

“It’s not so much a matter of like as a matter of trust,” he said. “That trust does not exist between Dr. Grasmick and myself.”

A spokesman for Mrs. Grasmick declined to comment.

Mrs. Grasmick and Mr. O’Malley’s professional relationship soured after she attempted to take over 11 failing Baltimore schools when Mr. O’Malley was still mayor and running against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Grasmick supporter.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, supported the takeover, but it was blocked by the Assembly.

Mr. Ehrlich asked Mrs. Grasmick, a Democrat, to be his lieutenant governor in his successful 2002 gubernatorial run. But she declined, and Mr. Ehrlich chose then-Maryland Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele.

Mrs. Grasmick’s term ends next year. She is appointed by a 12-member school board whose terms are staggered to keep governors from having direct control over state schools.

Mr. O’Malley appointed five members to the board this year. However, Mrs. Grasmick’s contract came up for renewal by the board before Mr. O’Malley could appoint more members and gain control of the board.

Mr. O’Malley said he has not considered how or when he would change the school board structure to oust Mrs. Grasmick, just that he wants to pick a new superintendent.

“I think overall in our state, we’ve made a mistake in insulating [superintendents] from the… accountability that comes with a direct appointment from the elected executive,” he said.

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