- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

TOWSON, Md. Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday called on Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to join him in a televised, open discussion of issues facing Maryland.
"The public deserves to have a conversation, with little interference from a moderator, in a state where the majority of Marylanders thinks we're 'going in the wrong direc-tion,'" Mr. Ehr-lich said, referring to a recent poll in which a majority of likely voters chosen for the survey selected that response.
Townsend spokesman William Mann said it is "premature to talk about format" or the schedule of debates.
Mrs. Townsend, a Democrat, has been preparing a run for governor since she and Gov. Parris N. Glendening entered their first term more than seven years ago, but she is not expected to announce her candidacy, officially, until Sunday.
But Mr. Mann said, "We're not ruling anything out [or in], but we're not going to be [negotiating terms of debate] through the media," Mr. Mann said.
Mr. Ehrlich who announced March 25 that he would give up his congressional seat to try to become Maryland's first Republican governor in more than three decades issued the challenge at a lunch-table interview with 10 newspaper and wire service reporters.
Billed "Burgers with Bob," the event was an intentional contrast to Mrs. Townsend's invitations to individual reporters to join her and her ever-present Chief of Staff Alan Fleischmann for private lunches.
Although her political staff says she'll soon be widely available for dialogue with journalists, so far her carefully choreographed, if not yet official, campaign has offered few opportunities for her to be questioned in public.
Supporters say she has been careful not to step out front on most issues out of concern for overstepping her role as lieutenant governor.
Detractors suggest that the explanation, and the largest staff amassed by any lieutenant governor in the state's history, serve mostly to shield her from blame and questions about her oversight in areas such as juvenile justice, where there have been failures and abuses.
"What she's done will come to light. Other than juvenile justice, I'm not sure what it is. I'm not sure what all those people crammed in that office have been doing for eight years," Mr. Ehrlich said.
Policy differences are less clear than stylistic ones between Mrs. Townsend, eldest child of the late Robert F. Kennedy, and Mr. Ehrlich, only child of a Baltimore County car salesman and legal secretary, who earned a Princeton University degree on scholarship.
But the candidates regarded as centrists within their respective parties will have to delineate those differences as they work to woo Maryland voters in November.
Because Mrs. Townsend's only elective office has been lieutenant governor, which carries only powers assigned by or derived from the governor, her record on issues is limited.
Still, Mr. Ehrlich argued that Mrs. Townsend is, in many ways, an incumbent.
And he warned that she could not be counted on to build the contentious Intercounty Connector between interstates 270 and 95 any more than Mr. Glendening, who withdrew support for the road in 1998, and won the backing of environmentalists, as he and Mrs. Townsend faced a tight re-election race.
In that race, polls showed Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in a dead heat with Mr. Glendening until his campaign, piloted by longtime Kennedy political consultant Robert Shrum, ran a last-minute series of ads that inaccurately portrayed Mrs. Sauerbrey's vote against a bill as racist. The vote was against a job-discrimination bill killed by Democrats for reasons that had nothing to do with race.
Mr. Ehrlich said he is making sure that the Democratic opposition doesn't get away with using divisive racial tactics again.
Tuesday he will join U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez to announce that, with his help, HUD and leaders of predominantly black New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore have worked out a deal to reclaim deteriorating low-income housing near the church.


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