- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

BALTIMORE Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. last night attacked each other's records in their first televised debate in front of a raucous, vocal audience that clearly favored the Democratic lieutenant governor over the Republican congressman.
The gubernatorial candidates differed over issues ranging from Medicare and school funding to the state's anticipated $1.3 billion deficit and the tobacco tax, but honed their messages for their effect on their opponents.
"He opposes affirmative action based on race. Well, let me tell you, slavery was based on race. Lynching was based on race. Discrimination was based on race. Jim Crow was based on race, and affirmative action should be based on race," Mrs. Townsend said to cheers before the predominantly black audience at the Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center of Morgan State University.
"Lieutenant Governor, with all due respect, you've never been elected to anything at anytime on your own. And this is governor. You know what? This is serious business," Mr. Ehrlich said. "You've had the largest staff in the history of the state. My God, what have all of those people been doing for the last eight years? You wonder."
Chanting "K-K-T," the audience of 2,000 spectators clearly sided with Mrs. Townsend, who offered herself early in the debate as an ally for black voters.
"My fight is your fight, my cause is your cause. And that truly differentiates me from my opponent," she said, noting that Mr. Ehrlich had received a grade of "F" from the NAACP, the sponsor of last night's debate.
Amid boos, Mr. Ehrlich told the crowd that he and his running mate Michael Steele, who is black, are seeking "to change a negligent and sloppy political culture" in Maryland caused by the administration of Mrs. Townsend and her political partner, Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
"It's about taking down a culture of corruption. It's about asking new questions and bringing new ideas and passing the charter school amendment and making this a legitimately pro-business state and balancing a budget and bringing a sense of fiscal responsibility back to this state," he said.
Mr. Ehrlich, who was taken aback by the catcalls, said his low grades resulted from "philosophical differences" with the NAACP on certain issues.
The one-sided tone of the audience became so disruptive that NAACP President Kweisi Mfume took the stage and admonished the audience, calling on them to give both candidates a fair hearing.
"We have to be dignified no matter where we stand on the issues," he told the audience, adding that the debate would not continue if the crowd kept up its booing. "Applause and boos do not serve the purpose of the debate."
The candidates went on to spar over raising the tobacco tax, the state's anticipated $1.3 billion budget deficit, and installing slot machines at racetracks to raise revenue.
The debate, scheduled for 8 p.m., started about a half-hour late and was televised by NewsChannel 8.
Mrs. Townsend enjoyed a 15-point lead over Mr. Ehrlich in polls in March, but polls conducted this month show the Republican congressman in a statistical dead heat with the Democratic lieutenant governor. She had rejected Mr. Ehrlich's early requests for debates, but now has expressed an interest in having two more televised debates before Nov. 5.
The Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sponsored the 1-hour debate.
Mrs. Townsend, who presented her budget earlier yesterday, told Mr. Ehrlich, "Unlike your budget plan my budget plan would pass the legislature. Your budget plan doesn't even pass the laugh test."
"You can't sustain that level of spending. You have to pay your bills. Business people families have to pay their bills. This state has to pay their bills. And guess what? The tab came due. The tab came due and it has your name on it," Mr. Ehrlich said, laying the blame for the state's budget crisis at her feet.
The debate's panelists, who asked their own questions of the candidates, were reporters or editors from the Baltimore Afro-American, the Baltimore Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Associated Press and a free-lance broadcast journalist from Baltimore.
Before the debate, the Ehrlich and Townsend campaigns had differed over its format, which consisted of two rounds during which each candidate was allowed two respond and the opponent was allowed one minute to rebut. The nominees did not direct questions toward each other.
The two sides took a long time agreeing to a debate date and time. After trading charges for the delays over the past several weeks, both agreed last week to meet yesterday at the NAACP forum.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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