Townsend makes it official at rally

She formally announces bid for governor before 1,000 at State House

May 06, 2002|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend began her bid for governor yesterday with an afternoon rally in Annapolis that was designed to present a unified Democratic front and a sheen of imperviousness around her quest to become Maryland's first female chief executive.

A crowd of more than 1,000 gathered in the shadow of the State House to hear Townsend announce her candidacy - a foregone conclusion for years - and took delight in the breadth and diversity of the turnout.

"Today, I ask you to join me on a mission of rededication and renewal for the great state of Maryland," Townsend told them.

"Today, I ask for your vote, your voice and your help. Today, I ask that you believe in what we can do together and a stronger, more prosperous and more caring Maryland that we can build together. Today, I ask that you help me lead this Maryland into the grace of a more perfect tomorrow."

Representatives from every corner of the state gathered under vertical banners bearing their county's name - the kind usually seen on the floor of national nominating conventions. Others waved placards declaring that groups from steel workers to Latinos were united for Townsend.

"We feel very welcome as part of the campaign," said Jim Williams, 66, one of about two dozen members of Gay and Lesbian Friends of Kathleen who attended the campaign launch.

"She has been very much in tune with civil rights for minorities," said Eric Nee, a Montgomery County prosecutor standing under a sign that read "Chinese-Americans for Kathleen."

Townsend was joined by her mother, Ethel Kennedy; Thurgood Marshall Jr., son of the former Supreme Court justice whose statue towers over the brick courtyard that was the site of the event; Gov. Parris N. Glendening; and two of the state's three living former governors.

"I was sitting there thinking, `Who else could pull off a kickoff like this?'" said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who flirted with the thought of challenging Townsend a year ago but chose to run for re-election instead. "It was the best I've ever seen."

Townsend and her supporters have made no secret of their strategy to secure the Democratic nomination by dissuading rivals from entering the race, either through forming alliances with them or deterring them by raising unmatchable amounts of money. The political elite among yesterday's crowd showed that she has largely succeeded, with one notable exception: Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is considering a primary challenge, stayed away.

The lieutenant governor becomes the first credible Democrat to enter the race. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Timonium is expected to secure the GOP nomination over perennial candidate Ross Z. Pierpont. Libertarian Spear Lancaster is also seeking the office.

By choosing to begin her campaign from the State House, Townsend, 50, sought to demonstrate that she will run on the record of the two-term Glendening administration and her work in crime prevention, economic development and other areas, supporters said. The backdrop was a brick-fronted rebuke to critics who say Townsend is ill-prepared to ascend to Maryland's top political job because she has never cast a legislative vote or won election on her own.

"I believe my wife, Kathleen, is a natural at the art of leadership," said her husband, David Townsend, a professor at St. John's College in Annapolis, in introductory remarks. "Most strikingly, Kathleen has a great and good heart, a heart that connects to all people, privileged and successful as well as struggling and troubled. ... It is because Kathleen loves what she is doing that people recognize in her a happy warrior."

The lieutenant governor, in her 27-minute address, said she would build on the accomplishments of the Glendening administration but would offer a different focus on solving transportation problems and determining what gets taught in the state's classrooms.

The General Assembly's recent approval of a landmark education funding plan designed to pump $1.3 billion in new money for public schools over the next five years may have robbed Townsend's education platform of some momentum. She pledged yesterday "we will keep that commitment" and also said she would push for character education and community service to be a more important component of public education.

She promised to back legislation creating a family leave benefit so parents can be involved in their children's schools. She said that rather than an increase in a minimum wage, "my fight is for jobs that earn a family-supporting wage."

Townsend mentioned her HotSpot crime-fighting program, which unites police, probation officers, social workers and residents in areas where crime is high.

"I want to bring that same spirit of engagement to other issues, to other challenges that we face here in the state of Maryland because I believe when we work together, nothing is impossible," she said. "So let's talk about traffic. We Marylanders are spending too much time in traffic.

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