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Rock ’n’ Roll Over

When Will Campaign Consultants And Strategists Finally Learn That Politics, Rock ’n’ Roll, And Sports Simply Don’t Mix?

By Russ Smith | Posted 10/5/2005

Just look at the events over the past 10 days in Maryland and there’s plenty of evidence that both Mayor Martin O’Malley and Gov. Robert Ehrlich are tone-deaf when it comes to employing smart symbolism in the run-up to next year’s gubernatorial election. Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan has problems of his own in his ongoing effort to demolish the mayor in the Democratic primary for the nomination—throwing brickbats at O’Malley’s mixed record in Baltimore isn’t that strong of a case—but at least he’s taking the tried and true low road of attempting to convince voters with a negative campaign.

O’Malley retains an image—reinforced partly by a national media that has no real understanding of the local political dynamics—of a youthful rock star, loaded with charisma, the gift of schmooze, and witty repartee. Maybe that was true back in 1999, but six years as Baltimore’s mayor has understandably taken its toll on the 42-year-old. There’s a reason why it’s difficult to ascend from a nuts and bolts job as mayor of a large, and often violent, city to a state’s governorship.

Still, you’d have thought that O’Malley, in his appearance on Sept. 28 in Rockville, his hometown, would’ve picked a more appropriate Bruce Springsteen (the mandatory lyricist of Democratic candidates early in this century) song than “Land of Hopes and Dreams” to blare over the loudspeakers.

The title makes sense, but take a look at some of the lines in the song and it doesn’t quite add up. For example:

This train
Carries saints and sinners
This train
Carries losers and winners
This train
carries whores and gamblers
This train
Carries lost souls

If O’Malley were endorsing expanded gambling in Maryland, as well as the decriminalization of prostitution, while throwing in a pledge of no new taxes, I’d seriously consider renouncing my support of Ehrlich. But I doubt that’s the case. If O’Malley really wanted to wrap himself in a Springsteen song, his best bet would be “The Promised Land,” a defiant tune—also with an uplifting title—that could serve as a direct hit on Ehrlich’s administration. The song concludes with these words:

Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break
your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted
The dogs on Main Street howl, ’cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man
And I believe in a promised land.

On the other hand, while it makes sense that Ehrlich will take any support, however fleeting, from powerful Democrats that he can, Orioles owner and avaricious trial lawyer Peter Angelos wasn’t the smartest choice. Along with anti-Ehrlich zealots at The Sun and The Washington Post, I was flabbergasted on Sept. 26 to see a full-page ad in the Sun’s sports section, paid for by the Baltimore Orioles, toasting Ehrlich for his support of Angelos’ mendacious scheme to stick up Major League Baseball for more revenue now that the Nationals have arrived in Washington, D.C.

Aside from President Bush, is there a more reviled man in Baltimore right now than the stubborn, litigious Angelos? Ehrlich’s sudden (and I hope temporary) loss of political acumen is so mind-numbing that it’s hard to argue with Sun columnist Michael Olesker’s shots at the governor in his Sept. 27 piece. Olesker is one of those Baltimoreans—unlike O’Malley—who sided with Angelos in his attempts to block D.C. baseball, claiming that the presence of a nearby team would devastate the local franchise. As I’ve argued in previous columns, this rationale is nonsense: Rather than go to court, Angelos could’ve risen to the challenge of competition and tried to improve his team so that Camden Yards would once again be packed with fans rooting for the Orioles, instead of the surreal sight in the past two weeks of Red Sox and Yankee partisans overwhelming the locals.

Ehrlich’s poor timing was so politically egregious it’s hard to work up a lather over Olesker’s cheap shots. He wrote: “In a fitting climax to their shameful 2005 season, in which even the ballplayers can’t wait to blow town, the Orioles and Peter Angelos are now laying it on for [Ehrlich]. After yesterday’s full-page ad in The Sun . . . tonight they’re letting the governor of Maryland hang out at Oriole Park with his life’s true heroes, the schoolyard jocks. . . . After the ballpark Ehrlich tribute tomorrow, the Orioles will play the Yankees. The way this season’s going, they’ll probably get no hits. Which is not unlike the Ehrlich administration.”

As it happened, the Orioles, a day after mustering their one win in 11 games against New York and Boston, did avoid a no-hitter. So maybe Olesker and his self-righteous band of compatriots will be wrong once again on Election Day in 2006. Nevertheless, these recent flubs on the campaign trail of both O’Malley and Ehrlich lead one to paraphrase journalist Jimmy Breslin, when he wrote of the 1962 New York Mets, “Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game?”

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