- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

Now that Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Rep. Robert Ehrlich have, as expected, won the Democratic and Republican primaries, the stage is set for yet another competitive gubernatorial race in Maryland. As soon as it became apparent that State's Attorney Jack Johnson had won the Democratic primary for county executive in Prince George's County Tuesday night, Mrs. Townsend made her way over to PG to congratulate Mr. Johnson, who prevailed with 36 percent of the vote against four lackluster opponents. In a county where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 5-1 margin, Mr. Johnson is the overwhelming favorite to become the next county executive.

Clearly, Mrs. Townsend, her one-time 15 percentage point lead in the polls over Mr. Ehrlich having vanished into a statistical dead heat, needs all the help she can get from Mr. Johnson. On Tuesday, more than 20 percent of Democratic primary voters more than 100,000 people chose Robert Fustero, a retired grocery clerk from Rockville, and his running mate, Linda Atkins, a College Park woman who has lived in a tent for most of the past decade, over Mrs. Townsend and her running mate, highly decorated retired Adm. Charles Larson. As the Baltimore Sun noted in a small story buried inside the front section of yesterday's paper, Mr. Fustero took one-fifth of the primary vote despite the fact that he spent less than $1,000 on his campaign, while Mrs. Townsend spent $2.3 million through the end of last month a spending ratio of 2,300-1 in Mrs. Townsend's favor.

Mrs. Townsend's selection of Adm. Larson, who is white, to be her running mate has infuriated many black, Democratic political leaders, among them the influential Rep. Al Wynn and state Sen. Gloria Lawlah. Mrs. Townsend understands very well that she needs a large turnout from black voters and clearly hopes that aligning herself with Mr. Johnson and the PG County Democratic Party machine will bring that about.

But her embrace of Mr. Johnson is highly problematic, because it links her with another controversial politician whose crime-fighting competence has rightly been called into question. Mrs. Townsend, of course, presided over the juvenile justice boot-camp disaster which resulted in the state paying out millions of dollars in settlements to juvenile criminals who were beaten up by sadistic guards. Mr. Johnson, for his part, has frequently clashed with county police over allegations of brutality against criminal suspects. But he's lost just about every such case he attempted to prosecute. Similarly, Mr. Johnson's unwillingness to seek the death penalty against suspects such as James Logan, who allegedly shot and killed two PG County sheriff's deputies last month, will serve to remind voters about Mrs. Townsend's waffling on the issue claiming to support capital punishment while simultaneously supporting a moratorium on executions.

There's more bad news for Mrs. Townsend, who has never been elected to office while running on her own. Until Tuesday night, the only Kennedy family member to lose a congressional race had been Mrs. Townsend herself, who was soundly defeated back in 1986, when she challenged then-freshman Rep. Helen Bentley. But on Tuesday, state Delegate Mark Shriver was defeated by state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen in the 8th Congressional District primary to determine who will face 16-year incumbent Republican Rep. Connie Morella in November. Although Mr. Van Hollen, a liberal, is philosophically quite close to Mrs. Townsend, she can hardly be encouraged by the fact that the Kennedy family name wasn't quite enough to propel Mr. Shriver to victory in a bastion of liberalism like the 8th Congressional District.

And the Democrats are still reeling from the recent state court decision to toss out the redistricting map put together by Gov. Parris Glendening and the General Assembly and to substitute one of its own. One of the biggest losers Tuesday night is Baltimore Sen. Barbara Hoffman, a protege of Senate President Mike Miller and powerful chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, who was thrown into a majority-black district and lost to Delegate Lisa Gladden. (On the "positive" side, many machine Democrats are reveling in the defeat of state Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV, who had been plagued by ethical problems and committed the heresy of endorsing Mr. Ehrlich for governor.)

Even so, Tuesday night was hardly a pleasant time for many leading Maryland Democrats, who face serious problems maintaining one-party rule at least when it comes to the governorship in November.

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