Senators rally behind Townsend

Mikulski, Sarbanes hint that O'Malley should stay out of race for governor

May 21, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Maryland's two U.S. senators joined the chorus of prominent Democrats endorsing Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for governor yesterday, stepping up pressure on Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley to stay out of the race.

The announcement by Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski broke their tradition of staying neutral in party primaries and sent a signal to O'Malley as he considers whether to challenge Townsend.

Although they avoided saying he should not run, the senators made clear that they believe O'Malley can be most effective by remaining mayor.

"I have great admiration and affection for the mayor. He's really getting traction on making improvements in the city," Mikulski said after a rally in Fells Point where the endorsements were announced.

"We're two statewide officeholders. We're saying to the people throughout the state, `This is who our choice is,'" she said.

Said Sarbanes: "The mayor was elected two years ago, and the mayor has done a good job as mayor. ... But the challenges in the city are very large."

The filing deadline for the September primary is July 1, and O'Malley has said he might wait until the last moment to decide whether to run. The mayor was attending a trade convention in Las Vegas yesterday, and a spokesman said he would have no comment on the senators' endorsements.

When other Democratic leaders announced their endorsement of Townsend, O'Malley responded by referring to his 1999 mayoral campaign, which he says he launched without concern for political endorsements.

Townsend told the crowd of politicians, union workers and party activists at the rally yesterday that she was "honored" to earn their support. "Together, we will make things better for our great state of Maryland," she said.

Other endorsements

Other Democratic leaders who have thrown their support behind the lieutenant governor include state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller; House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.; Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan; and three congressmen, Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Steny H. Hoyer and Albert R. Wynn.

The Democratic nominee for governor is expected to face Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the general election.

`A great mayor'

At yesterday's rally, many members of Baltimore's General Assembly delegation joined Mikulski and Sarbanes to show their support for Townsend's candidacy -- and for O'Malley to stay in Baltimore.

"He's going to be a great mayor," state Sen. Clarence W. Blount, a Baltimore Democrat and Senate majority leader. "The city just needs him. He's a new light, a new beacon."

Mikulski and Sarbanes said they endorsed Townsend -- even with the lingering possibility of a Democratic primary -- because they feel strongly about her candidacy.

`Enormous potential'

"I believe deeply that Maryland is a state with enormous potential ... and I think Kathleen can lead the state to realize that potential," Sarbanes said. "I think she'll be an absolutely terrific leader for our state."

Townsend has close links to both senators: Michael A. Sarbanes, the son of the senator, is one of her top advisers; and the campaign's communications director, Michael Morrill, spent more than a decade working for Mikulski.

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