- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend began her campaign to succeed Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday with a promise to push for mandatory leave time for workers in Maryland who want to volunteer in their children's schools.
"I pledge I will introduce legislation that ensures we have a parental link that allows parents to be involved in their children's education," said Mrs. Townsend.
In interviews after a 30-minute speech and 15 minutes of testimonials highlighting programs she had spearheaded in criminal justice and education, Mrs. Townsend declined to say how employers would be required to grant leave under her proposal.
However, she said the measure would be modeled after family and medical leave legislation.
Mrs. Townsend's long-expected announcement drew a crowd that covered the pedestrian square known as Lawyer's Mall in front of the State House. The audience included many union members and most of Maryland's Democratic political establishment.
Communications Director Mike Morrill, who recently left the governor's office to work on Mrs. Townsend's campaign, said her staff had counted more than 2,000 people gathered around the stage by the time the event began at 3:15 p.m.
Among those in the crowd were Mr. Glendening, who did not speak; Mrs. Townsend's husband, David; two of the couple's four daughters and a few other members of her famous family, including her mother, Ethel Kennedy.
The eldest daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968, Mrs. Townsend is considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
She is embarking on a race that has drawn national attention with a war chest that already exceeds $6 million three times the funds raised by other contenders.
But Republican candidate Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is betting that he can beat the largely untested Mrs. Townsend who has never won elective office on her own by winning centrist voters in a state that has been ruled for more than three decades by Democrats.
Political observers say Mr. Ehrlich has a chance even against the heir of the nation's most famous Democratic family to become the first Republican governor elected in Maryland since Spiro Agnew in 1966.
To do that in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of 2-to-1, he will have to win, as Mr. Agnew did, the votes of Democrats as well as Republicans.
A four-term congressman, Mr. Ehrlich has had to draw crossover votes each time his largely Democratic 2nd District, which consists mostly of Harford and Baltimore counties, has sent him to the U.S. House.
The son of a car salesman and legal secretary, Mr. Ehrlich's working-class roots and values have wide appeal in his district, including some lunch-bucket suburbs of Baltimore such as Arbutus, where he grew up.
Mr. Ehrlich has accused the Glendening-Townsend administration of "mortgaging Maryland's future" by spending too much on land preservation and deals with labor unions instead of human needs such as mental health for the poor.
In her first stump speech yesterday, Mrs. Townsend said she is starting "on a solid foundation."
"We have the highest family income, one of the lowest poverty rates and we have cut several taxes, including the personal income tax, while others at the federal level are voting to put us back at deficit spending," Mrs. Townsend said in a clear jab at Mr. Ehrlich and the Republican majority in the U.S. House.
Mrs. Townsend said she wanted to "ensure that higher education opportunities were open to all Maryland citizens" and expand character education to all Maryland schools.
"We are also reforming juvenile justice," she said, but elaborated no further on her response to reports of abuse by guards of troubled youths at state-run boot camps that led to their closings.
Mrs. Townsend's name recognition means Mr. Ehrlich will have to raise much more than the $2 million he has so far to pay for television ads across the state and in the costly Washington, D.C., market.
Yet the size of Mr. Ehrlich's war chest and demands on it could change depending on whether the charismatic and outspoken mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley, challenges Mrs. Townsend in the Democratic primary Sept. 10.
Mr. O'Malley has criticized the Glendening-Townsend administration on its criminal justice record and for not repealing the income-tax cut to spend more on drug treatment and social programs.
Pundits speculate that Baltimore business leaders accustomed to cultivating relations with Democrats who long have ruled the state may donate heavily to Mr. Ehrlich's campaign if Mr. O'Malley does not file to run for governor by the July 1 deadline.
If Mr. O'Malley does run, Mr. Ehrlich could benefit from a fractious Democratic Party battle that may alienate voters and turn them toward him. Mr. Ehrlich is working hard to shore up support among black and other minority voters who historically have tended to vote for Democrats.
He has secured the endorsement of state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a Baltimore Democrat and scion of a family of civil rights leaders.
Mr. Ehrlich will appear with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez and leaders of predominantly black New Psalmist Baptist Church tomorrow in Baltimore to announce a plan to reclaim deteriorating low-income housing near the church.


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