By CHRIS YAKAITIS
Capital News Service
WOODLAWN - Speaking before the Maryland Mental Health Coalition Wednesday, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Kristen Cox cited a barrage of state government programs designed to help mental health patients and declared: "You have a friend in us."
An hour later, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martin O'Malley countered that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich hasn't done enough for Marylanders and has instead served corporate interests and "the bottom line of insurance companies."
In a candidate's forum here, Cox, secretary of the Department of Disabilities, and O'Malley, mayor of Baltimore, appeared in succession, each answering 12 questions from representatives of mental health agencies on topics ranging from veterans' care to juvenile services, from emergency room overcrowding to affordable housing for seniors.
But while the questions were identical, the responses by Cox and O'Malley varied significantly, both in tone and in content. While Cox cited the specifics of more than a dozen state programs Ehrlich has supported in her 45-minute session, O'Malley spoke in broader terms about government cooperation, accountability and inter-agency cooperation.
"The most important and lasting progress that's made is made only when you declare goals, when you force people to come together every two weeks... so that the wheel of inevitability is always coming back," he said, referring to Baltimore's CitiStat program, which tracks the progress of city agencies. "There's so much that we can do by way of collaboration if we force people to get together and to leverage off of each other's strengths instead of standing on the sidelines."
As an example of their differing tactics, Cox responded to a question about expanding mental health services for veterans by citing an arrangement announced in August between the state and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide rehabilitation services for Eastern Shore veterans at the Deer Head's Hospital Center in Salisbury.
"We took a very innovative... almost one-of-a-kind in the country step on this just recently," Cox said.
O'Malley, meanwhile, said he would "work with the veterans' administration and the state department of veterans' affairs" and called attention to broader failures of the federal government in providing care for veterans and their families.
"This is the first war I think we've ever tried to fight on the cheap," he said. "Placing a higher priority on tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of us than we do on providing for our veterans when they come home, it's appalling. It's not the America that my father fought for in World War II."
Denise Camp, a representative from Pikesville-based psychiatric health firm Prologue, Inc., said even though she was "extremely disappointed that Governor Ehrlich wasn't here," Cox initially landed a "slam dunk" with detailed answers that pointed to Ehrlich's existing policies and programs.
"Governor Ehrlich has proved his support for mental health, and he's done a lot of things for mental health," she said.
But Camp, who said she is an independent, added that hearing O'Malley's broader philosophies on government efficiency has made her rethink her vote on Nov. 7. "Where previously I had pretty much made my decision, now I feel like I need to do a little more research to make it," she said.