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Advertise on the Tentacle

January 22, 2007

Inauguration Day

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

In a cruel weather twist, Maryland's coldest day so far this January was reserved for the gubernatorial inaugural festivities.

The logistics operation is staggering in its scope, almost like a major military operation. So much so that National Guard soldiers served as coordinators. Comparing the setup with four years ago, the planners must have figured on a much larger crowd.

Folding chairs were lined up all over Lawyers Mall, and towers and scaffolding indicated the camera positions for the dozens of television stations preparing to beam Gov. Martin O'Malley's words across the state. The front of the historic State House was draped in flags and banners, framing the raised platform that occupied the marble steps.

It took patience and guile to navigate Annapolis last Wednesday, as streets were closed, security tight, and parking non-existent. Never have so many state troopers been assembled in one place at one time. Annapolis must have been the safest place in America.

The House and Senate assembled in joint session at 10:20 to certify the 2006 General Election results for governor. Mercifully for the Republicans, Majority Leader Kumar Barve (D., Montgomery) spared us the actual numbers when he moved to dispense with the formal reading of the results.

That little piece of constitutional business took all of 15 minutes. The next order of things was to observe the administration of the Oath to the 61st Governor of Maryland, Martin Joseph O'Malley, in the Senate Chamber.

As with four years ago, cramming 200-300 people in a room designed for 47 is a feat of logistical significance. Senators had to surrender their plush, overstuffed leather chairs for metal stacking chairs, and most of the 141 delegates were forced to stand.

I had a great viewing spot directly in front of the podium. In order to accommodate the television cameras, a platform was erected from painters scaffold. It framed the main door from the State House lobby into the Senate chamber. Most elected officials seemed uncomfortable standing directly under the scaffold, but a few of us took advantage.

The new minority leader, our own Sen. David Brinkley, was nowhere to be found in the crowded chamber. It seemed strange that David would miss such an important event, so there must have been some reason for his absence.

When the honored guests were announced, they were ushered in by senators designated as escorts. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and his family were accompanied by senators from Baltimore and Prince George's County; and Governor O'Malley was escorted to the dais by the majority leader, Sen. Ed Kasemeyer (Baltimore/Howard) and the aforementioned Minority Leader Brinkley.

The oath, administered by Chief Judge of the Maryland Judiciary - the Honorable Robert Bell - is the same oath the House and Senate members took a week earlier. At that moment in time, the leadership baton was passed from Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., to Martin Joseph O'Malley.

The significance of that transfer and its immediacy is something that warrants further consideration. Ignoring the overused reference to peaceful power transitions, I marvel at the logistical aspects of these events.

Sometime after 12:20 P.M. on January 17, Bob Ehrlich went from being the most powerful individual in Maryland to a regular guy. He was no longer responsible for every aspect of state governance, for the work of 88,000 employees.

Earlier that morning, he was escorted to the office on his short walk from his four-year residence, Government House, by a ring of plain-clothed state troopers. The cadre of senior staffers that seemed to be in perpetual orbit around the chief executive, and the flock of reporters following every step, maintained their respective positions as if ordained by law.

As of the moment Martin O'Malley completed his oath, Bob Ehrlich lost all of the trappings of power and microscopic analysis by Maryland's media elite. He went from being driven everywhere in a caravan of blacked-out SUV's to driving his own car home.

He went from having every waking moment of his day scheduled to having to answer his own phone calls. Governor O'Malley has some experience with this surreal lifestyle, having served two terms as a big city mayor, afforded some of these trappings of office and convenience.

Governor O'Malley delivered a broadly themed inaugural address, employing inspirational images and hopeful language to set the tone for his first week at the helm. Reviews were mixed, with Democrats likening the speech to the Sermon on the Mount, while Republicans criticized the lack of detail.

The truth: it was a very good speech, delivered effectively by a great public speaker. Sure, it was light on detail, but they will come during the first State-of-the-State speech. Had he tried to lay out a specific policy agenda, the reviews would have focused on specific programs, not the larger message of hope for a brighter future.

The O'Malley years lie ahead. Expect a progressive agenda, with a number of new programs funded this year. Things get a lot tighter next year, along with a much more challenging budget.

Governor O'Malley used the theme of Peril and Possibility throughout his 15-minute speech. Those words seem to define the future, and with it, the hopes for - and threats to - the new administration. No one is smart enough to predict what the future holds, but every one of us has a huge stake in outcome.

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