- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

BALTIMORE Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Democrat, and Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Republican, fielded questions about how they would improve access to education and job opportunities in Maryland last night in their first major forum as candidates for governor.

One of the eight panelists at the event, sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, asked Mrs. Townsend if youths in the juvenile justice system where embarrassing lapses and abuses occurred on her watch would receive equal access to educational benefits from an additional $1 billion a year the state is planning to spend on schools.

"There is clearly more to be done," said Mrs. Townsend, who claimed some success, citing figures that show juvenile crime is down by 28 percent.

She also promised to find a way to fund the educational plan when the state faces a potential budget shortfall of $1 billion in two years.

She said the state has closed boot camps where youths were beaten and said she would support more community-based efforts for rehabilitating and monitoring offenders.

After the forum, Mr. Ehrlich challenged her claim to a 28 percent reduction in juvenile crime.

He said his campaign has received memos from state agencies that handled juveniles and that those documents suggest her numbers are false and based on a change in how the state is counting juvenile crimes.

"If you don't [commit] a violent crime, it's not counted," Mr. Ehrlich told reporters. His staff said the memos also suggest that repeat offenses are not counted.

Mrs. Townsend was not available to respond because she left immediately after her presentation for what she said was a conflicting, long-standing commitment to speak at a fund-raiser for state Sen. Gloria Lawlah, Prince George's County Democrat, at Rosecroft Raceway.

But her spokesman, Mike Morrill, said of Mr. Ehrlich's counterclaim, "He's either badly misled or deliberately misleading."

He said that the statistics are submitted by police departments and simply compiled by the state agencies and are widely available through the state Web site.

"These kids need access to drug-addiction services and mental-health services and after care," Mr. Ehrlich said. He also assailed the failure rate in some schools, noting that only 23 percent of Baltimore City students who were ninth-graders in 1999 graduated this year.

Many of the more than 800 who attended the event at the War Memorial Building wanted to know how and why the candidates made their surprise choices for running mates.

Mrs. Townsend angered many top black leaders when she passed over well-qualified minority candidates and tapped retired Adm. Charles Larson, a former commander of armed forces in the Pacific and superintendent at the U.S. Naval Academy who was a Republican until last month and has never run for public office.

In Montgomery and Prince George's counties, crucial jurisdictions for both candidates, elected black state and county official showed their displeasure when not one attended last week's openings of Townsend-Larson campaign offices.

Mrs. Townsend was not challenged directly about her choice but a panelist asked why there were not more minorities in state government, particularly from the fast-growing Hispanic population.

"The past eight years, we've had the most diverse [administration] in history," Mrs. Townsend said of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration. "I'll be looking forward to continuing that commitment."

On a related topic, Mr. Ehrlich said he supported increased minority contracting goals for state agencies but not set-asides.

"But if the access isn't there, the capital isn't there, goals don't mean anything," Mr. Ehrlich said. "Ask the black chamber of commerce who their friends are. Let's go beyond set-asides."

In closing, Mrs. Townsend said she announced her candidacy beside the Annapolis statue of the legendary civil rights leader and late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall because she wanted to begin beside a "Marylander who fought the good fight."

In what has become a campaign mantra, she said, "I believe government works best when it does things not to people or for people, but works with people."

Mr. Ehrlich in closing said, "I ask you not to look at platitudes they don't mean anything.

"I'm not saying Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is a bad woman. I like her, but if I appear passionate, I am. [Running mate] Michael Steele and I are working-class kids," he said, drawing tacit contrast to Mrs. Townsend's famous wealthy family.

"Look at how we interact with you. We are asking you to say, 'They're not better than anybody else because of where they came from, but maybe because they get it,'" he said.

He asked the audience not to "reflexively" vote for a Democrat but to take a look at his "opportunity ticket" Mr. Steele is black as a chance to break a Democratic monopoly that has taken the black vote for granted in Maryland.

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