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O'Malley campaign comes to county

September 02, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley is on a swing through Western Maryland this weekend, venturing into territory that was a solid stronghold for Gov. Robert Ehrlich four years ago.

But in his quest to snatch Ehrlich's job this November, O'Malley not only is marching into what could be considered enemy territory, he is capitalizing on Ehrlich's Achilles heel in the process.

O'Malley is set to get an endorsement today in Hagerstown from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92, which represents correctional officers in Maryland.

Correctional officers at the three state prisons south of Hagerstown and at the two in Cumberland, Md., have complained loudly about staffing cuts made early in the Ehrlich administration, and while the governor pushed through raises, new positions and other incentives this year, the wound continued to fester.

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The deaths of two correctional officers this year, one in Hagerstown and one at Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup, only fueled fears about safety in the state's prisons.

During a campaign stop Friday at Stingers Sports Pub and Grill on Old National Pike, O'Malley told The Herald-Mail that he intended to "do everything" necessary to ensure the safety of correctional officers, and took a shot at Friday's announcement that Ehrlich had approved more than $5 million for safety enhancements at the prisons.

Ehrlich, he said, had "miraculously found $5 million in an election year" for security equipment.

O'Malley's not waiting to see whether he gets elected to start making plans. He told The Herald-Mail that he already is studying staffing levels at the state's prisons, and is engaged in "an ongoing dialogue" with correctional officers about the prisons' needs.

On another hot Western Maryland issue, O'Malley said he wanted to see a "balanced approach" to resolving the medical malpractice liability crisis that has chased some physicians out of Maryland, and prompted others to curb their practices.

He charged that Ehrlich's approach to the issue had been to divide the parties; O'Malley said he wanted to bring "all parties to the table," including doctors, lawyers and insurance companies. Insurers should be forced to open their books to reveal just how much was being spent on malpractice judgments, he said.

O'Malley said legislation approved over Ehrlich's veto in 2005 that created a temporary stopgap fund to help physicians pay their liability premiums had been "a step in the right direction."

Accompanied by his running mate, House Minority Whip Anthony Brown, O'Malley planned to travel to Allegany and Garrett counties before returning to Washington County today.

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