- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

It's hard to believe, but despite all the problems plaguing Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's gubernatorial campaign, some of her journalistic well-wishers at the Baltimore Sun apparently think she deserves serious consideration for national office in 2004. This is almost surreal, given the reality that Mrs. Townsend's political fortunes are in a state of free fall, and she will be hard-pressed to be elected governor of Maryland in November.

Since January, Mrs. Townsend has gone from a double-digit lead in the polls to a statistical dead heat with Republican fRep. Robert Ehrlich. As her political fortunes have declined, Mrs. Townsend has been treated with growing disdain by members of her own party.

Rep. Al Wynn and several Democratic state legislators have boycotted the opening of her Prince George's County campaign office to protest her selection of a white running mate: highly decorated Adm. Charles Larson, who is retired. When she called a press conference to announce that she had reconciled with the black leaders, Adm. Larson didn't show up. Political allies such as Big Mike Miller, Maryland's Senate president, essentially told her to get lost when she tried to win legislative approval of a bill to curb judges' almost unlimited authority to reduce convicted criminals' sentences. One of Mrs. Townsend's own Democratic ticket-mates, comptroller and ex-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, says openly that Marylanders question whether she is up to the job of being governor.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury, with the assistance of the FBI, is widening its investigation of questionable grants awarded by the Maryland Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP), which Mrs. Townsend has overseen since Gov. Parris Glendening annointed her crime czar in 1995. Beyond the criminal investigation itself, this creates yet another huge problem for KKT's gubernatorial hopes, because it serves to remind voters of her disastrous handling of the state's juvenile-justice system. This includes the fiasco with juvenile boot camps, where the state has paid out millions in legal settlements to young hoodlums who were beaten up by sadistic guards, and new reports that three teen-agers under the supervision of the state juvenile-justice agency were charged in separate slayings after they shed their home-detention monitors and hit the streets.

But Mrs. Townsend's political problems apparently haven't dissuaded some folks at the Sun from touting her as vice-presidential material. On Tuesday, the paper ran a piece with the bizarre title "Townsend discounts vice presidency talk," along with the subhead "Candidate: She says she wants to make impact as governor, not as vice president."

"It's reality," Sun correspondents David Nitkin and Sarah Koenig wrote. "Her iconic maiden name would be part of the appeal. She's also of the right gender to balance a ticket."

That same day, the lead story on the Sun's front page explained how the grand jury wants to review personnel records for approximately half the personnel staff of Mrs. Townsend's GOCCP in order to learn whether $6 million in federal anti-crime money was properly spent. "Officials at the crime-control office and the University of Maryland, College Park [which administered federal grants to the crime-control agency] were directed to deliver thousands of pages of documents about staff and federal grant money to a federal grand jury sitting in U.S. District Court in Baltimore beginning Aug. 21," the Sun reported.

Noting that Thomas DiBiagio, the U.S. attorney investigating the case, is a Republican, Mrs. Townsend has denounced the probe as "political garbage" and suggested Mr. DiBiagio might be colluding with Mr. Ehrlich.

But Mr. DiBiagio has certainly shown his willingness to defy Mr. Ehrlich on other issues, such as gun-crime prosecutions. And the truth is that GOCCP employees themselves have been raising questions about the appropriateness of agency spending practices for some time. Margaret Burns, a former employee whose records were subpoenaed, said there was a lot of "water-cooler conversation" at GOCCP over whether it was right to use federal dollars for what amounted to "empire-building" on behalf of Mrs. Townsend (and, by extension, the Democratic Party machine that dominates the state).

Mrs. Townsend does herself no favors by attacking Mr. DiBiagio for trying to do his jobwhich includes ensuring that taxpayers' money is properly spent. She would do better to cooperate with the investigation and live with the consequences.

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