Wall Put Sauerbrey on Path: East Germany Visit Provoked GOP Hopeful

By Redmon, Jeremy | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 4, 1998 | Go to article overview

Wall Put Sauerbrey on Path: East Germany Visit Provoked GOP Hopeful


Redmon, Jeremy, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


* Fourth in a series on candidates for Maryland governor.

ANNAPOLIS - A visit to East Germany in 1968 helped form Ellen R. Sauerbrey's core conservative values and fuel her desire to become governor of Maryland.

She saw a repressive East German government reduce her husband's aunt to scratching out a meager existence on her hands and knees in a small garden. The same government confiscated her father-in-law's house to shelter Czechoslovakian refugees.

"The day we left East Germany, we went through the checkpoint, and the gate came down behind us," Mrs. Sauerbrey says, recalling how she and her husband, Wilmer, passed through the Berlin Wall to West Germany.

"We took a deep breath, and we were so relieved to be out in the free country again and know we weren't going to be trapped behind that Wall. It was like breathing freedom."

More than three decades later, Mrs. Sauerbrey, 60, wants to reduce Maryland's state government, make it less burdensome on taxpayers and cut state income taxes.

And the former Republican leader of the Maryland House of Delegates is ready for a rematch with the incumbent Democrat, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who only narrowly defeated her four years ago.

National Republican leaders believe the Maryland governor's mansion is winnable in the Nov. 3 general election. Party heavyweights have dropped by to help Mrs. Sauerbrey raise money, among them House Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.

That has irked her opponent in the GOP primary Sept. 15, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker. Mr. Ecker, 69, says his two terms running the county government gives him management experience Mrs. Sauerbrey lacks.

Mr. Glendening's two remaining challengers in the Democratic primary are Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and Davidsonville physician Terry McGuire.

Most political observers expect Mr. Glendening and Mrs. Sauerbrey to face each other again.

Mrs. Sauerbrey has gone on the attack in recent weeks, criticizing the governor for financing construction of the Ravens' football stadium in Baltimore with $200 million in taxpayers' money that could have been spent better on public education; bashing him for proposing that the state build a new horse racetrack with public funds to prop up the racing industry; and attacking him for neglecting public schools and leaving a budget deficit when he was Prince George's County executive. * * *

Although proud of her conservative values, Mrs. Sauerbrey says she would not attempt drastic changes in current law if elected. Though she opposes abortion and gun control, for instance, she says she wouldn't try to ban either.

She says she is realistic: In polls, most Maryland voters say they favor legalized abortion and gun-control laws. Besides that, Democrats control the state legislature and could make life difficult for her if she attempted wholesale changes.

"I recognize that you have to choose your battles," she says.

Mr. Glendening accuses her of flip-flopping on the issues.

"She spent her whole career against women's right to choose, and now is no longer going to fight on that issue," the governor said recently.

These days, Mrs. Sauerbrey is trying to reassure undecided voters by sharing more of herself and her family life.

Ellen Richmond Sauerbrey talks about growing up in a Baltimore row house as part of a middle-class family. Her father, Edgar Richmond, was a steelworker, union member and Democrat. To keep food on the table during a strike, he drove a cab.

Her mother, Ethel, took a job as a secretary when her father was misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis, thinking she would have to provide for the family.

And there's this revelation: In high school, the Richmonds' daughter Ellen was nicknamed "Winkie" - after her unconscious habit of winking her right eye when she smiles. …

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