Reasons for U-Md. official pulling out of Hagerstown political forum disputed

September 11, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Douglas M. Duncan, a former county executive now working for the University of Maryland, said he withdrew from a Hagerstown political forum next month because of pressure from the governor's office.

But P.J. Hogan, the University System of Maryland official who urged Duncan to step back from political activity, said he was giving advice as a friend and colleague, not passing along an order.

Duncan, a Democrat, was scheduled to appear with former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, at an Oct. 14 dinner at Duffy's on Potomac in Hagerstown.

"The governor's office told the university to tell me to cancel my appearance," Duncan said Tuesday.

On Wednesday, he said Hogan told him about the directive.

Hogan, though, said there was no directive.

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, said no one in his office knew of such an order.


University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan wasn't told by O'Malley's office to force Duncan to withdraw and Kirwan didn't issue his own order, said John Buettner, a University System spokesman.

As far as the University System was concerned, Duncan was free to participate in the event, Buettner said.

Hogan said he noticed recent examples of Duncan speaking out politically and advised him it wasn't a good idea. "This just happened to be the latest," Hogan said.

Hogan, a Maryland state senator for 12 years before becoming the University System's vice chancellor of government relations, said it's difficult for elected officials to shake free of politics when they take other jobs. "It's in your blood," he said.

Duncan is now the vice president for administrative affairs at the University of Maryland at College Park, part of the University System of Maryland.

Through his job, Duncan and his public comments are connected to the University of Maryland, Hogan said.

Duncan, who was Montgomery County executive from 1994 to 2006, ran against O'Malley in the 2006 Democratic primary for governor, but dropped out of the race. He said he was battling depression.

The dinner with Duncan and Ehrlich was part of a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce series that includes forums on the local school board and Congress races.

Tickets for the Duncan-Ehrlich dinner were being sold for $60.

Brien J. Poffenberger, the chamber's president, said Tuesday the event still will be held.

"I'm coming," Ehrlich said. "I think it's going to be a solo act."

But Poffenberger said Wednesday the chamber is trying to get a Democrat with Duncan's stature to take his place.

Ehrlich said he was looking forward to sharing a bill with Duncan, whom he likes.

"When we've debated, it's always gentlemanly," Ehrlich said.

Duncan said his relationship with Ehrlich, despite their opposite party affiliations, is cordial.

When Duncan had his hip replaced and when he was coping with depression, Ehrlich called to see how he was doing, which Duncan said he appreciated.

Duncan said he's disappointed he can't attend the chamber dinner, but the message was clear: If he does, he could jeopardize projects he's working on and his job.

Asked if he thought he was risking his job by accusing O'Malley's office of telling him to withdraw from the event, Duncan said, "I guess we'll find out."

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