Asked about her role in her husband’s decision to run, Kendel laughs and says, “Strong. I had a strong role. Not decisive, but I remained very optimistic that the fluke was not Bob Ehrlich getting elected; it was Bob Ehrlich getting defeated. It’s a gut thing for me. I have pretty good instincts.”
She says she felt that her husband’s return to public life was now or never: “I lost a brother to cancer early on. I learned from that you just can’t wait in life.”
The contrast between Ehrlich and O’Malley extends to their strong, intelligent, attractive wives—both lawyers and devoted mothers but different sorts of political spouses.
Catherine “Katie” O’Malley, daughter of longtime Maryland attorney general J. Joseph Curran Jr., works full-time as a district-court judge in Baltimore, a job that by law prohibits her from campaigning—and that’s not an altogether bad thing, she says: “I’ve been campaigning all my life, so it’s nice not to have to do it. Martin’s pretty good at it, so he doesn’t need my help.” She adds that her kids are active in the campaign.
The O’Malleys have four children—Grace, 19, who attends Georgetown University; Tara, 18, who’s entering Loyola University in Baltimore in the fall; William, 12; and Jack, 7. Governor O’Malley says the best parts of living in the official mansion are that he can walk his youngest son to school every morning and that there’s help for his wife. “For seven years when I was mayor, she had a disproportionate amount of the household chores,” he says. “After seven years of Katie having virtually no support at home with little kids, it’s been nice for her.”
As first lady, Katie O’Malley has championed causes—anti-bullying, truancy, buying local foods, and ending childhood hunger. Like Michelle Obama, she planted a vegetable garden to promote healthy eating—her husband is the one who goes for junk food, she says. And she tries to work out every day—either running or taking a spinning or yoga class—to keep herself sane.
While she may not make campaign speeches, she doesn’t hesitate to sing her husband’s praises or respond directly and bluntly to attacks. Asked about the frosty relationship between him and his likely opponent, she brings up an episode from the Ehrlich administration in which an aide to the then-governor posted false rumors on the Internet claiming that O’Malley was unfaithful to her. Ehrlich said at the time that he didn’t know about the postings and called for the aide’s resignation, but the first lady holds him responsible and it still rankles.
“How can you be cordial to a person like that?” she says of Ehrlich. “How can you like a man who’s hurting your family like that? It’s not going to be possible. We don’t have to like him. It’s not about that. It’s about who’s doing a better job as governor.”
Ehrlich declines to respond, saying through his press secretary that the episode has no bearing on the current contest.
Kendel Ehrlich is a fierce advocate for her husband—on the weekly radio show she continues to host, at fundraisers, and at campaign rallies. At a tax-day Tea Party rally in Towson, “she really pumped up the crowd,” says Dave Schwartz, state director of Americans for Prosperity, which organized the event, and a former Ehrlich fundraiser.
“I enjoy it, and I think people know that about us,” Kendel says of her campaign activities. “It’s sort of a family affair.”
As first lady, she worked on her own issues such as drug and alcohol abuse and mental health. But she also sometimes sat in on the governor’s meetings, weighed in on personnel and policy matters, especially those related to criminal justice, and was a major presence around Annapolis, says a former aide. When Ehrlich wanted support from then-comptroller and former governor William Donald Schaefer, he had Kendel deliver a birthday cake to the Democrat at a Board of Public Works meeting.
A former public defender and a prosecutor—as well as, surprisingly, a former Democrat—Kendel was talked about as a possible candidate for a US Senate seat in the 2006 election and says she doesn’t rule out a career as an elected official. “I don’t count that out in my future,” she says, “but it would be a while from now because my kids are young. I really believe that people should spend time with their children.”