Townsend makes Prince George's pledge

Promises no children will attend class in trailers, temporary classrooms

September 24, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

LARGO -- Seeking to shore up support in Maryland's second-largest jurisdiction, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend promised yesterday to build enough classrooms and renovate enough schools to ensure no Prince George's County children will be forced to learn in portable trailers or buildings without air conditioning.

"This is my pledge to Prince George's County," Townsend told county Democratic politicians. "We will fully fund the Bridge to Excellence [based on the Thorton Commission plan] and we will finish the job of school construction so no child in Prince George's County will attend class in trailers or temporary classrooms."

Townsend also repeated a campaign pledge to construct Maryland's next state office building in Prince George's, near a Washington Metro stop -- a promise sought by U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. agreed that school construction should be a top priority, but said he was hesitant to make such broad promises because of the state's budget woes.

The Democratic gubernatorial nominee made her promises during a Prince George's party unity breakfast.The Townsend campaign considers a big turnout in Prince George's, one of Maryland's most heavily Democratic jurisdictions, crucial to victory against Ehrlich.

Townsend returned to Prince George's later in the day, delivering her sharpest attack to date against Ehrlich in a fiery speech before 1,000 party activists in Greenbelt.

"You can buy what Bobby Ehrlich is selling you, which is very different from what he's delivered in the past. Or you can choose our brand, our Democratic brand, of excellent education, of high quality health care, of protecting our environment," she said.

"This is a serious choice for Maryland with serious issues, and a smile and a haircut and calling yourself a moderate is not going to be enough to tackle Maryland's problems," Townsend said.

Last night was also a time for Democrats to mend fences. Townsend praised Gov. Parris N. Glendening for his accomplishments of the past eight years -- her most public embrace in weeks of her former running mate.

And Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley gave his strongest support to date for Townsend, who rushed to the stage after the mayor spoke, grasped his hand and lifted it over their heads.

But with many of the county's Democratic primary winners facing no Republican opposition in the Nov. 5 general election, Prince George's Democrats and Townsend supporters believe they'll have to work particularly hard to get voters to the polls.

"This is not Kathleen's campaign," said Prince George's State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson, the favorite to become county executive after winning in the primary. "This is the Democratic Party's campaign."

Townsend did not immediately offer any way to pay for the school construction, nor did she give any deadline to finish it.

But a campaign spokesman said Townsend's pledge represents a long-term goal of her administration -- not just for Prince George's, but for all public schools in Maryland's 24 jurisdictions. It follows on Gov. Parris N. Glendening's eight-year, $1.6 billion record investment in school construction and renovations.

Prince George's school officials did not immediately have cost estimates for installing air conditioning in all schools and adding enough space to eliminate the need for portable classrooms.

Ehrlich pledged that school construction would be a "very high priority" if he were elected.

"She seems to be promising everything to everybody," Ehrlich said. "You have to be careful, particularly given her administration's record of over-spending."

Townsend campaign spokesman Peter Ham said it's possible to set such goals and then work to meet them.

"That's the difference between us and our opponent," Hamm said.

Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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