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Port in a Storm


Gov. Bob Ehrlich has been known to cloak himself, quite literally, in homeland security.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Republican governor held a news conference dressed in a homeland security blazer. During his state of the state address last month, he invited a Louisiana parish official to address the legislature and thank Ehrlich for his support during the catastrophe.

So when he headed to the Port of Baltimore this afternoon, amid a growing national furor over an Arab company's takeover of operations at six U.S. ports, Ehrlich was ready to talk about homeland security.

"Job one is public safety," Ehrlich said to reporters. It is "paramount during a time of war, a terror war, a non-traditional war."

The governor took a detour before starting his meeting with port officials to stroll the windswept docks, flanked by top aides, pausing beneath a mammoth blue crane to watch men loading containers onto a Panamanian cargo ship. A port police boat bobbed just off shore, within view of television cameras.

He was one of several Maryland politicians to weigh in on the controversial deal Monday.

At a later news conference, Ehrlich was joined by Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R), who is a candidate for U.S. Senate this year. An independent film crew, the sort typically identified with campaign work, was on hand. But the cameraman would not identify why he was filming.

In a statement today, Steele said "There should be MANDATORY investigations of any foreign entity that would take over the operations of a U.S.-operated port, and Congress should have an active role in approving transactions that are ultimately an issue of national security. We must increase the transparency of this process."

Another Senate candidate, Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin called on Ehrlich to consider cancelling the contract and " reassess privatization of these operations at the Port of Baltimore.

"Management of the longshoremen's loading and unloading of ships could be handled by the Port of Baltimore directly, as it has been in the past," he said in a statement.

He also suggested that Congress consider reversing federal approval of the sale and conducting oversight hearings of the agency that signed off on the deal.

The Republicans were outflanked on the port issue Saturday, when Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democratic challenger for governor, objected to the deal and called on state leaders not to "roll over and play dead."

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, another Democrat running for governor, said Monday that he considers the arrangement "clearly misguided and wrongheaded."

At issue is the purchase last week of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates. The London-based company runs major commercial operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

Matt Mosk and John Wagner

By Phyllis Jordan  |  February 21, 2006; 4:18 PM ET
Categories:  Governor  
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