Democrats honor Townsend for work on social problems

Award for leadership presented by Clinton

April 12, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - As Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was honored yesterday by former President Bill Clinton at a national Democratic function, she signaled that her bid for governor was moving into the next phase.

Townsend, who is expected to announce her candidacy May 5, outlined some of the themes she plans to use in her campaign, telling an audience of party activists how she helped create jobs, improve education, lower crime and rebuild some of the state's aging neighborhoods.

Townsend also spoke of on her role in creating service programs, including the requirement that Maryland high school students perform community service in order to graduate.

"I want to show this is not new and that I have a track record," Townsend said in an exchange with reporters.

The event was sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council, a national group of centrist party activists - an indication of the kind of powerful support behind Townsend.

Showering her with high praise, Clinton gave her the first DLC Clinton Center Award for Leadership and National Service, which he is making an annual prize to Democrats who promote new ideas for solving longstanding social problems.

"No lieutenant governor in America ever had anything like the positive impact on the citizens of his or her state that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend had," Clinton said. "She is the embodiment of citizen service."

The former president said he selected Townsend because of her role in creating the HotSpots program, which focuses law enforcement and government resources in targeted neighborhoods to reduce crime.

He also noted Townsend's leadership in creating the Police Corps, a program that trains officers in community policing.

Clinton never mentioned Townsend's expected run for governor of Maryland, but the lieutenant governor later said she would welcome his help on the campaign trail.

"I think he has accomplished so much," said Townsend, whose mother, Ethel Kennedy, joined her at the luncheon.

If she is the Democratic nominee, Townsend could face a difficult race with Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, in the general election. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley is considering entering the primary against her.

Townsend could use Clinton to rally support, particularly among minorities who would be key to her win and who still view the former president favorably.

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