- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will both get put on the spot when they address the NAACP forum tomorrow, with the Democratic front-runner trying to mollify slighted black leaders and the likely Republican nominee defending his congressional record.

Blacks make up more than a quarter of Maryland's population, and Democrats have depended on this constituency for its last two gubernatorial victories.

At tomorrow's forum in Baltimore, Mrs. Townsend will surely be asked to explain why she passed over minority candidates and longtime Democrats to pick retired Adm. Charles Larson, a Republican until last month, for her running mate.

Her choice angered key black Democratic politicians, who were noticeably absent when Mrs. Townsend opened her campaign offices in Prince George's and Montgomery counties Friday.

Mrs. Townsend's staff points to appearances at other events and has released statements from black leaders that focus on the commitment the black community owes her.

Townsend spokesman Len Foxwell said Sen. Gloria Lawlah, and Delegates Tawana Gaines and Kerry Hill all black Prince George's Democrats had joined Mrs. Townsend for lunch before her annual family event at the Baltimore Zoo.

And a Townsend campaign statement distributed after the event focused on Rep. Elijah E. Cummings' stump speech for her there.

"[Y]ear after year, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has stood with us for a united and more inclusive Maryland," the press release quoted Mr. Cummings, a black Baltimore Democrat, as saying. "Now, we must stand with her as she seeks the highest position in our state. We have not forgotten from whence we came, and we will not forget a good friend who has walked the hard walk with us and struggled to overcome the legacies of a less-enlightened past."

But civil rights activist Joe Madison said it will take more than exhortation to make sure black voters turn out and cast ballots for the Townsend-Larson ticket in November.

"She is going to have to bend over backwards and kiss a lot of black political butt politically," Mr. Madison said.

Black voters are angry, Mr. Madison said, and are making it clear in calls to his syndicated talk show for Radio One, which has stations in Prince George's and Baltimore.

That means Mrs. Townsend will have to go to the issues to ensure black voters are motivated to go to the polls, Mr. Madison said.

Working the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People forum into her schedule took some juggling for Mrs. Townsend, who was already set to headline a fund-raiser for Mrs. Lawlah tomorrow. She will speak at the forum before Mr. Ehrlich before she heads to Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill.

"She's doing her best to honor her commitment to the senator and participate," Mr. Foxwell said Monday.

It could be a bruising appearance for her, and for Mr. Ehrlich.

The NAACP gave him an "F" on its congressional scorecard, a grade it gave most other Republicans.

His 22 percent rating was the lowest in Maryland, but the same score the NAACP gave Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, the only black Republican in Congress.

"There are going to be questions, and I think Bob's looking forward to answering them," said Ehrlich campaign spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver.

Mr. Ehrlich's choice of Michael S. Steele the only black Republican state party chairman in the nation won't net him many black votes, Mr. Madison said, adding that Mr. Ehrlich also will have to look to the issues.

At a meeting with reporters Monday, Mr. Ehrlich denounced characterizations of Mr. Steele by some Democrats, noting that Rep. Steny H. Hoyer called Mr. Steele a "token" and Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. called him "an Uncle Tom."

"Saying there can't be a black Republican, there can't be a black pro-business candidate just because it doesn't fit their view, I'm not putting up with it," Mr. Ehrlich said.

Mr. Larson will attend the forum, but Mr. Steele will be out of town on business for the Republican National Committee, campaign aides said.

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