O'Malley provides a warm embrace to Townsend candidacy

No longer playing it cool, mayor praises candidate for pledge on school aid

October 04, 2002|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Criticized for failing to show enough affection for his party's gubernatorial candidate, Mayor Martin O'Malley wrapped a big, sweaty hug around Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend yesterday.

During a campaign stop at Elmer A. Henderson Elementary School in East Baltimore, O'Malley declared that his endorsement of Townsend - whom he almost challenged for the Democratic nomination - was "very warm."

"In fact, I'm inclined to take off my jacket, it's so warm," O'Malley said, lifting the lapel of his charcoal gray jacket to reveal large wet marks on his powder-blue shirt.

"Look, I'm sweating," he remarked, reaching an arm around Townsend's shoulders and squeezing his former rival.

Townsend, who in the past has received the cold shoulder from the mayor, looked a bit perplexed by her companion's theatrics, hooking her arm around him, too, but then pulling back a bit.

"You know, there are some things we can keep secret between us," Townsend said, smiling.

The photo opportunity outside the school at 1101 N. Wolfe St. was part of a media tour designed to boost Townsend's campaign by showing how solidly the once-skeptical mayor now backs her and how much the state has contributed to the city's schools.

In part because of an increase in state funding and a decrease in class size, first-graders in the school achieved some of the best scores in the city this spring on a national standardized test, averaging in the 85th percentile nationally in reading and the 89th percentile in math.

After visiting several classrooms with Townsend yesterday, O'Malley praised her for promising to increase funding for the city's schools by at least $300 million over six years.

"That's the kind of leadership the state needs, and that's the kind of leadership that the lieutenant governor provides," O'Malley said.

Responding to the mayor's first significant praise of her leadership, Townsend said, "Mr. Mayor, this really shows the importance of the partnership between the city and state, between you and me."

Townsend and O'Malley strode shoulder-to-shoulder through hallways and classrooms amid a clattering, disruptive herd of TV cameramen and reporters.

O'Malley hammed it up. Passing one classroom, he pointed to a gaggle of 5-year-olds dancing crazily and flapping their arms like birds, and observed, "Sometimes we do that in City Hall."

The mayor crumpled his muscular body atop a foot-tall chair and recalled how wonderful it was to be small, while Townsend stood like an adult in front of him.

Townsend played to the cameras, too, but she was less corny. She quizzed the fourth-graders in Joyce Buchanan's class about why "it's cool to go to school."

"To get more smarter!" one child replied.

"To get more smarter? That's great," she said.

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