- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Some of Maryland's most powerful black politicians previously critical of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's choice of a white running mate and her recent decision to fire a well-connected black campaign strategist rallied behind the lieutenant governor's gubernatorial campaign yesterday.
Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry, U.S. Rep. Albert Wynn, county executive candidate Jack Johnson and several state legislators met with Mrs. Townsend at a hotel in Largo early yesterday morning in a show of Democratic Party unity.
The reconciliation comes as recent polls show Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. edging ahead of Mrs. Townsend in the gubernatorial race and a growing concern among Democrats that their standard-bearer is vulnerable.
Maryland last elected a Republican as governor Spiro T. Agnew in 1966.
Mr. Wynn yesterday promised to stand by Mrs. Townsend "100 percent."
In July, after Mrs. Townsend announced her choice of a former Republican, Adm. Charles R. Larson, as a running mate, Mr. Wynn was among several black county leaders, along with state senators Ulysses Curry and Nathaniel Exum, who boycotted the opening of her Largo office and canceled a photo shoot with her at the county Courthouse.
They were angered by Mrs. Townsend's failure to consult them on her choice of running mate and by her decision to pass over several eligible candidates from her own party, including Montgomery County Council member Isaiah Leggett, who is black. Instead, Mrs. Townsend chose Mr. Larson, who crossed over from the Republican camp in June this year.
Yesterday, Messrs. Wynn, Exum, Curry and Leggett were all present, the past apparently forgotten and forgiven.
"You have heard her promises. You know her commitment. You know her," Mr. Wynn said. "Kathleen is listening. We can work with her."
"We have 5 weeks to make certain there is a voice in Annapolis that will be there for us," said the Democratic candidate for county executive, Jack Johnson. "The next five weeks I will work as hard as I have ever worked to get Kathleen Kennedy Townsend elected governor of this state."
Meanwhile, Mr. Wynn said yesterday he is "in the process" of asking Mrs. Townsend to rethink her decision to dump strategist Julius Henson, who was brought on board last week to revive her campaign.
Mr. Henson was fired Friday after he told The Washington Post he would portray Mr. Ehrlich as a "Nazi" to Prince George's voters. Mr. Henson, who is known for his take-no-prisoners political style, is a consultant and ally of Mr. Wynn and has worked on the campaigns of candidates Mr. Wynn endorses, such as Prince George's County Council member Thomas Dernoga, Democrat, District 1.
"[The Townsend campaign] has moved fairly far out there in terms of opposing him," said Mr. Wynn. "This will be a real loss. Hopefully things can be worked out."
Mr. Wynn also said that it will be hard to predict the fallout from the Henson incident, but that he was more concerned over the campaign's field operations and "getting the message out."
"This is more inside baseball stuff," he said. "The voters aren't concerned over who her campaign [strategists] are."
State Democrats planned to congregate again in Greenbelt last night in another show of party unity.
Mrs. Townsend was originally expected to win the November election easily, with one poll in January putting her 15 points ahead of Mr. Ehrlich. But the lead gradually eroded, and this month a Mason-Dixon poll gave Mr. Ehrlich a four-point advantage over Mrs. Townsend. Another poll from Gonzalez-Arscott Research and Communications Inc. gave Mr. Ehrlich a single-point lead.
Observers attribute this to Mr. Ehrlich's ability to portray himself as a centrist. Yesterday, Mrs. Townsend criticized her opponent's voting record on health care, gun control and education.
"He smiles when he says it he does have a nice smile and a nice haircut but he never votes the way he acts," she said, to cheers from the gathered crowd. "Bob Ehrlich is no Democrat, even though he likes to play one."
She criticized what she said was his opposition to the gun law passed in 1968 as a response to the assassinations of her father, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. "If that is what he says, he is out of step with Maryland voters and the mainstream. We are not going to let anyone do that," she said.
Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ehrlich, said yesterday Mr. Ehrlich did not plan to roll back any existing legislation on gun control. The candidate has also expressed his support for trigger locks on guns as a means to safeguard children from accidents.
"He has never addressed revoking, repealing or rolling back any of the current laws on the books," she said. "His main focus is getting rid of the bad guys with guns. That includes supporting speedy background checks on would-be purchasers, mandatory no-parole prison sentences for convicts caught with guns and limiting access to and ownership of guns by minors."
Mrs. Townsend also outlined her efforts to fight the estimated $1.6 billion budget deficit announced last week by Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.
"We have been there before. We can cope with this. We will tighten our belts and operate efficiently but we will not balance the budget on the backs of children, working men and women, and our parents," she said. She promised to provide resources to improve education and health care, fund transportation projects and help expand minority businesses.
Mrs. Townsend, however, has yet to come up with a specific budget plan to combat the deficit. Mr. Ehrlich presented his budget framework, which included increasing revenue from slot machines at racetracks, a day after the deficit was announced. He promised not to increase taxes, while Mrs. Townsend has refused to rule out that option.
Staff writer Jabeen Bhatti contributed to this report.


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