- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

Maryland state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV crossed party lines and defied racial expectations yesterday to endorse U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s bid to become the state's first Republican governor in more than three decades.
"Senator Clarence Mitchell is a member of America's first family of civil rights," Mr. Ehrlich said. "His independence and commitment to economic and political empowerment for all make him a valuable member of my team."
Mr. Mitchell, a Democrat who represents a historically black voting district in Baltimore, said he decided to endorse Mr. Ehrlich after giving candidates from both parties opportunities to respond to the needs of his district and black voters.
He said he found the Baltimore County Republican more responsive than the Democratic front-runner, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who plans to announce her candidacy tomorrow.
"From now until November, I'm going to lay out specific areas where he has responded to black voters and she has not," said Mr. Mitchell, who had threatened to bolt the Democratic Party this year in outrage over Gov. Parris N. Glendening's redistricting plan.
Mr. Ehrlich said he looked forward to the Democrat's support in a campaign that would attempt to address "old problems," such as failing schools and justice systems, with "new ideas."
The Mitchell endorsement comes just days after Mr. Ehrlich, who is white, called on Democrats to shun "race-baiting" tactics used in past campaigns. Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in Maryland, where blacks have overwhelmingly voted Democratic.
Responding to Mr. Mitchell's endorsement of Mr. Ehrlich, Townsend spokesman William Mann said, "We're very proud of the people who are supporting the lieutenant governor."
Mr. Mitchell, the grandson of civil rights leader Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., who lobbied Congress for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he would provide details about how the Republican candidate has responed to black voters but noted as "symbolic" Mr. Ehrlich's support for a library at Baltimore's historically black Morgan State University.
Morgan State students protested at the State House in the spring to urge lawmakers to fund the library, which had been postponed while money for other projects at state schools remained in the budget. Mr. Ehrlich signaled his support immediately, Mr. Mitchell said, but he got no response from Mrs. Townsend, who could have intervened.
Mr. Mitchell also criticized Mrs. Townsend's statement Thursday in support of a moratorium on the death penalty as being a "day late and a dollar short."
"When I was leading the fight for a moratorium, I sought support from her, but it didn't come. Issues aren't going to wait for her to decide when she wants to run for governor," Mr. Mitchell said, dismissing her staff's repeated explanation that she did not want to overstep her role as lieutenant governor.
Mr. Ehrlich does not support a moratorium but said yesterday that he supports safeguards, including DNA testing, whenever it is relevant.
The four-term congressman, who is vacating his seat in the House of Representatives to run for governor, said he welcomed Mr. Mitchell's help in facing down an "arrogant monopoly" of Democrats who have long held power in Annapolis.
"There's a less-than-good relationship between the Democratic Party and the black community and the Black Caucus," Mr. Ehrlich said.
Tensions between Mr. Mitchell and the Glendening administration were renewed in January, after Mr. Glendening's redrawn map of the state's legislative districts shifted the boundaries of Mr. Mitchell's district, reducing the number of minority residents and pitting him against white incumbent Sen. George W. Della Jr. in the Democratic primary.
Mr. Mitchell, several Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, a black Democrat, have each filed court challenges against the redistricting plan.
The Mitchell endorsement is a mixed blessing for Mr. Ehrlich. State lawmakers reprimanded him in February for "bringing dishonor" to himself and the General Assembly by accepting a $10,000 loan in 1997 from a bail bondsman whose business could be affected by the senator's action on bills in the General Assembly.
Mr. Ehrlich said this week that he is working to ensure that the Democrats and Townsend political consultant Robert Shrum do not get away with the race-baiting tactics they used to gain a last-minute edge when Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey ran against Mr. Glendening in 1998.
A television ad said Mrs. Sauerbrey voted against a "civil rights" bill that had been rejected by Democrats for reasons that had nothing to do with race. Mr. Mitchell's father, former state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell III, spoke out on behalf of Mrs. Sauerbrey but did not endorse anyone in the election.
Tuesday, Mr. Ehrlich will appear with U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez and leaders of Baltimore's predominantly black New Psalmist Baptist Church, for whom he has helped secure a deal to reclaim deteriorating low-income housing nearby.
President Bill Clinton appeared at that church on the eve of the November 1998 election to help get out the vote for Mr. Glendening and Mrs. Townsend.

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