Sour note on fund-raiser

The Political Game

Campaign: Ehrlich and Townsend seek to build support among black voters for their gubernatorial runs.

April 02, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s first official fund-raiser in his bid for governor featured an unlikely participant -- the Coppin State College choir.

Ehrlich, the Baltimore County congressman, invited the choir to perform at a time when he is seeking to increase African-American support for his campaign. The choir from the historically black college in Baltimore was increasing its exposure.

But the performance at the March 25 event is raising questions about a state school performing at a political event.

"It is questionable judgment, whether it is Democrats or Republicans, especially since it is a partisan event," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat.

Yet some Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis appear to have been more troubled by the idea of the choir's performing at a Republican event than anything else.

"Some people were really upset about it," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Democrat who represents the city and Baltimore County. "So what? They showed off in front of a bunch of rich people who might want to donate to Coppin. I hope they sang well."

The number of public schools that have performed for political events "is endless," Hoffman said. "I don't know that Coppin should be criticized."

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, an East Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the city Senate delegation, and others said they have had the Dunbar High School Jazz Band perform at fund-raisers and other political events -- many of them for Democrats.

Calvin W. Burnett, Coppin's president, said he did not see a problem with the choir performing at the event because the choir and the director are "as apolitical as you can get."

"I don't believe the choir would turn anyone down," Burnett said.

Paul E. Schurick, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said the campaign provided transportation for the choir. The choir did not receive any other compensation, Schurick said.

"Bob has heard the Coppin State choir a number of times," Schurick said. "He's a big fan of theirs. He asked them to perform. I thought it was a good addition."

While Ehrlich is trying to woo African-American voters with a popular choir, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the leading unannounced Democratic gubernatorial candidate, appears to be reaching out with pizza.

Townsend is holding pizza parties with members of the Legislative Black Caucus for one-on-one discussions about concerns among the state's African-American leaders. She is scheduled to meet with caucus members from Baltimore and the Eastern Shore tomorrow.

Alan H. Fleischmann, Townsend's chief of staff, said the discussions are routinely held during legislative sessions to discuss issues before the General Assembly. Townsend holds similar meetings with other groups such as the Women's Caucus and legislative committees, he said.

"She meets with a variety of different committees ... to discuss legislative priorities," Fleischmann said. "I wouldn't call them pizza parties, but they do have pizza."

Del. Talmadge Branch said that the meetings this year -- at least from the caucus' point-of-view -- were designed as an opportunity for caucus members to discuss their concerns with Townsend.

"This gives members an opportunity to talk with her one-on-one," Branch said.

Del. Joanne C. Benson, a Prince George's Democrat and former chairwoman of the Black Caucus, said the meetings are needed as this year's campaign gets under way. She said she and others in Prince George's County want to hear her positions on education, public safety and health issues.

"It's absolutely urgent for her to let us know what her priorities are," Benson said.

Meanwhile last week, Townsend received endorsements from prominent African-Americans, including Delegates Branch and Rawlings and City Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings Blake, the delegate's daughter. The Rawlingses played a key role in support of Mayor Martin O'Malley's bid for Baltimore's top job.

Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he wants O'Malley to remain in the mayor's office and not run for governor because "he's doing a good job for the city."

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