WASHINGTON – Gov. Robert Ehrlich said there was “excellent execution on the ground” last month in the effort to protect Baltimore from an alleged terror threat to its transportation tunnels as he left a Wednesday meeting with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.
Local and national leaders, he said, are continuing to work together to keep the state and the region safe.
“What is always brought home to me,” Ehrlich said, “is how interdependent we are.”
The closed meeting, which also included Washington Mayor Anthony Williams, was organized “to discuss homeland security issues relevant to the National Capital Region, including the coordination of information and analysis coming from federal sources,” said a Tuesday statement from the governor’s office.
Coordination was tested Oct. 18 when the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel was closed and traffic through the Fort McHenry Tunnel was reduced to one lane each way after authorities learned of a threat to detonate vehicles filled with explosives inside a Baltimore tunnel.
Local, state and federal officials praised the efforts taken, but some expressed dissatisfaction with communication between agencies during the incident.
Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley told the Associated Press the day of the closings that he learned of the incident, not from officials, but from the news media.
Ehrlich met with Williams and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner Oct. 26 to discuss the incident and other issues facing the region.
Following that meeting, Ehrlich told reporters he was frustrated by reports of an unnamed federal official questioning the credibility of the threat as it was being investigated. When the federal government does not speak with one voice, he said, it puts leaders in a difficult position.
Wednesday, Ehrlich was more positive and said he is proud of interagency cooperation that helped make the tunnel closings happen quickly and smoothly.
The lesson from the tunnel incident, he said, is that “we can execute when we need to.”
“We continue to get better on a regular basis,” he said.
After the meeting, Ehrlich also addressed Tuesday’s off-year elections.
Ehrlich said he was not terribly surprised by the loss of fellow Republican Jerry Kilgore in Tuesday’s Virginia gubernatorial election and restated his desire to seek a second term in next year’s elections.
“I’d like to run again quite frankly,” he said.
Ehrlich dismissed suggestions that in the future he and other Republican candidates would have to distance themselves from President Bush, whose approval ratings have plunged recently.
Ehrlich said that he has developed his own policies and positions independent from the president, sometimes agreeing with him and sometimes not.
“I love this phrase in American politics: distancing,” Ehrlich said. “I don’t know what that means.”