- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

With Maryland's gubernatorial election just 13 days away, it's a frightening time for Maryland's Democrats, who face the prospect that voters will reject Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and choose a Republican governor for the first time since Spiro Agnew's election in 1966.

During the century when Jim Crow ruled the South, state Democratic Party machines saw to it that blacks were disenfranchised and played to the prejudices of the white working class by promising to perpetuate blacks' second-class status. Today, however, the nature of the race-baiting has changed. Instead of seeking to intimidate blacks from participating in politics, Maryland's liberal racial demagogues seek to scare blacks into remaining on the Democratic political plantation by smearing Republicans as racists.

During the 1998 gubernatorial campaign, Mrs. Townsend recruited Democratic strategist Bob Shrum to run campaign ads falsely suggesting that Republican candidate Ellen Sauerbrey was an enemy of civil rights because she voted against one controversial anti-discrimination bill, which was opposed by many Democrats. In this year's campaign, Mrs. Townsend has suggested that Rep. Bob Ehrlich's opposition to racial preferences was analogous to supporting slavery.

But, judging from the polls, the version of the race card Mrs. Townsend has been using thus far hasn't really done her a great deal of good. If Mrs. Townsend and her political allies become sufficiently desperate, they could well decide to bring in the ultimate weapon in racial agitprop, Maryland-style: attacking Mr. Ehrlich for his opposition to a series of ill-conceived housing initiatives promoted by the Clinton administration (in particular, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros) along with the ACLU and the Housing Authority for Baltimore City (HABC) and Mayor Kurt Schmoke.

Essentially, the goal was to alter and dictate the racial composition of neighborhoods throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area by moving (mostly black) public housing residents into (mostly white) working-class neighborhoods in Baltimore's suburbs. In 1994, when HUD tried to implement such a scheme, called Move To Opportunity (MTO), the resulting furor was so great that liberal Sen. Barbara Mikulski moved quickly to kill it. So, the social engineers tried a different tactic: The ACLU sued the HABC in January 1995 claiming that it had maintained a racially segregated public housing system. Nine months later, the two sides reached the ultimate sweetheart-deal consent decree with the blessing of HUD. In it, the Clinton administration agreed to contribute $300 million to tear down public housing high-rises and give 1,300 displaced families vouchers to obtain rental housing. In addition, the Glendening-Townsend administration agreed to contribute $65 million for the project. The settlement specifically barred public housing residents from using the vouchers in communities that were more than 26 percent black, in essence forcing them to seek housing in nearby suburbs like Baltimore County.

Mr. Ehrlich waged a lonely battle against the consent decree. His efforts were repeatedly derided by the Baltimore Sun, which depicted Mr. Ehrlich as a demagogue looking to sow racial fears. As a free-lance writer who covered the story and closely followed Mr. Ehrlich's actions, I can attest to the fact that the opposite was true: On numerous occasions, I witnessed his efforts to calm Baltimore County constituents who were up in arms over the prospect that more public housing residents would be moved into their neighborhoods. In multiracial communities like Randallstown (where I grew up), some of the staunchest opponents of the consent decree were middle-class black homeowners who felt that their communities were already inundated with subsidized housing.

Yet, the truth hasn't prevented the Baltimore Sun or Mrs. Townsend's allies in the Democratic machine from rewriting history. Earlier in the campaign, the Baltimore Sun ran a lengthy hit piece suggesting that Mr. Ehrlich had tried to demagogue the issue. The attack didn't catch on at least right away leading some Republicans to believe it's dead. They shouldn't be so sure.

Julius Henson, the onetime Townsend political consultant who called Mr. Ehrlich a "Nazi," sought to revive the issue of the consent decree last month, accusing Mr. Ehrlich of trying to keep blacks out of Baltimore County. Although the Townsend campaign claims to have cut ties with Mr. Henson, the Baltimore Jewish Times reported that, after his supposed ouster, he received an e-mail from campaign boss Karen White discussing a revised payment schedule for his services.

If Mrs. Townsend's political situation remains bleak, don't be surprised if the Democrats try to raise the housing case smear once again in the campaign's final days.

Joel Himelfarb is assistant editorial page editor of The Washington Times.

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