Gore focuses on `digital divide' in Morgan State campaign stop

Vice president lists technology proposals for student crowd

February 16, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

Al Gore brought his earth-tone suits and measured cadences to Baltimore yesterday, using Morgan State University as a backdrop to call for closing "the digital divide" between technological haves and have-nots.

"Computer literacy is a fundamental civil right," the vice president said.

"We must have full Internet access for every single home, for every family, throughout the United States," Gore said, campaigning here three weeks before Maryland's March 7 primary.

Although their school was chosen for what Gore called "a major policy proposal in the midst of a presidential campaign," some in the crowd of about 350 students were disappointed by his focus on technology.

"The Internet is important, but it's not everything," said Chianti Lee, a 23-year-old first-year student from Baltimore who said she would have liked to have heard his stance on welfare reform and other issues.

"I liked what he had to say on education," said Jeff Miller, 25, a senior. "But I've got to hear what he has to say on some other things before I decide who to vote for."

Julian Dash, 22, Morgan State's Student Government Association President, said that with this appearance by Gore coming after last week's visit by the wife of his opponent, Bill Bradley, many Morgan State students are just beginning to pay attention to the campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Dash also said he had not made up his mind whom to back.

"I did like his support of public schools," he said of Gore, who said students should be able to go to the public school of their choosing.

"I am a product of public schools and wish I had had the choice to go to a better one," Dash said.

In his 40-minute talk, Gore touched on several themes of his campaign, but focused on the issue of technology.

He unleashed a sheaf of statistics to back up his point that new technologies are the foundation of the economic expansion, so technological literacy is necessary to take advantage of these economic good times.

"The opportunity gap of today has to be closed before it becomes the opportunity canyon of the 21st century," he said.

"Every child in America -- regardless of income, geography or race -- should be able to reach across a computer keyboard and reach the vast new worlds of knowledge, commerce and communication that are available at the touch of a fingertip," he said.

"Innovation and technology are fueling faster growth and new jobs. I see a future where they also widen the circle of opportunity," he said.

Gore said African-Americans and Hispanics are two-fifths as likely as white families to have access to the Internet.

Gore reiterated his previous pledge to wire every classroom and library in the country to the Internet by the end of his first term before broadening that to call for making such access as common as having a telephone.

He said the federal government should help disseminate educational software designed to allow students to learn at their own speeds in their own styles, and called for using tax incentives to expand the use of technology to help the disabled.

The vice president also proposed technology centers in inner city and rural areas that would allow students and adults to use state-of-the-art equipment.

Gore spoke before a group of students and a phalanx of the state's Democratic party establishment that has endorsed his bid for the nomination -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, as well as the two Baltimore area congressmen, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin. Also in the audience were city Comptroller Joan Pratt and various members of the City Council.

Gore took no questions, but did walk to the front of the crowd and shake hands amid a cluster of television cameras and microphones before he headed for his helicopter, which landed at Lake Montebello water treatment plant south of the Morgan State campus.

"I liked it," said fourth-grader Kendrick Taylor, 9, part of a group of Tench Tilghman elementary pupils who attended the talk. "I've got two computers."

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