Just 2 politicians out on the town

Townsend, Duncan downplay their tour of Silver Spring

March 02, 2001|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

SILVER SPRING - They did everything but kiss babies.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan were ostensibly touring redeveloped parts of Silver Spring yesterday, but their two-hour visit had all the trappings of a gubernatorial campaign swing.

With a battery of cameras recording their every move, the two shook hands with cops, walked through a new office building and sampled lemon quinoa (a $6.99 a pound couscous-like dish) at a yuppie grocery store.

The only question is, who's running for what?

Townsend is clearly running for governor next year. But Duncan says he has not decided whether to challenge her, run for re-election as county executive or seek a spot as Townsend's running mate.

Some ranking Democrats have urged Duncan to abandon a campaign for governor and settle for the second spot on Townsend's ticket - an alliance some observers say would be hard for any other team, Democratic or Republican, to beat.

Yesterday, Duncan seemed interested in keeping that option open.

Although he has criticized Townsend in the not-too-distant past for problems in the state's juvenile justice system and the Glendening administration's rejection of a new highway in northern Montgomery County, Duncan was every bit the gracious host yesterday.

He and Townsend seemed downright friendly, chatting as they sat next to each other during a bus tour of Silver Spring, sharing a private lunch at the Fresh Fields grocery store, and even embracing for a quick hug and a peck on the cheek at the end of the visit.

And Duncan made sure Townsend saw that the Silver Theater had put up a greeting on its marquee: "Silver Spring Welcomes Lt. Gov. Townsend."

"That's very sweet," a beaming Townsend told Duncan. "Thank you. That was very nice."

While the trip was fraught with political overtones, neither Duncan nor Townsend wanted to say much about them.

Was this trip an early indication that the two might run together next year? Townsend was asked.

"What a question!" she said with a smile.

Asked about Duncan later, Townsend said: "He's very smart. He's done a great job."

But she added: "I think today we're going to concentrate on what redevelopment has done."

Duncan, too, deflected questions about the coming gubernatorial race.

He noted that he and the lieutenant governor have "worked very well together."

But he added: "I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing in 2002. What I'm trying to do now is be the best county executive possible."

A recent poll for The Sun found that Townsend, 49, enjoys both high name recognition and strong ratings among voters across the state. In head-to-head match-ups with Duncan, 45, and other possible challengers, Townsend held a wide lead.

Some Democratic leaders say Duncan - the top elected official in the state's most populous county since 1994 - would bolster Townsend's support among Washington-area voters and be the best running mate for her.

Yesterday, though, the discussion centered on the redevelopment of Silver Spring - a sprawling, $1 billion project that has been years in the making and one of the biggest accomplishments of Duncan's two terms in office.

In January, Duncan played tour guide through the area for Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. He will do the same next week for Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who is also considering a run for governor.

The Silver Spring visit was not the first time this week that Duncan has gone out of his way to pay a public compliment to Townsend.

At a Senate hearing Wednesday in Annapolis, Duncan praised the lieutenant governor for her role in putting together a state venture capital fund to nurture high-tech business.

Duncan said afterward that there was no political motivation. "When they do something good, you compliment them," he said.

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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