Ehrlich signs a pledge to assist African-American community

Money for Coppin among commitments he makes

October 09, 2002|By Sarah Koenig and Tim Craig | Sarah Koenig and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed an unofficial contract with African-Americans yesterday in which he made a variety of commitments, from funding for historically black colleges to installing black judges on the Maryland bench.

The "Memorandum of Understanding Between Robert Ehrlich and the African-American Community," signed at an event at Coppin State College, lists 12 issues Ehrlich says he will pursue if elected.

Among Ehrlich's most ambitious pledges is to "improve Coppin State College, following a plan modeled on the recommendations of the Toll Commission." Last year, an independent commission led by John S. Toll, president of Washington College, reported that the state had financially starved Coppin for 20 years. To help the campus meet the standard of other state institutions, the report recommended spending $300 million in capital funds over 10 years.

This year, Gov. Parris N. Glendening earmarked $85 million for the college over five years, but most of that money won't be available until 2006.

Ehrlich running mate Michael S. Steele said an Ehrlich administration would give the college $30 million a year for the next decade, but could not say where it would come from. The state faces a budget shortfall of $1.7 billion for the next two years.

"We know what the financial situation is going to be, but we have to make the commitment," Steele said. "What - are you going to shut the institution down? That is the alternative."

The document, witnessed by Steele and three other African-American Ehrlich supporters, says Ehrlich would address employment discrimination; help minority-owned businesses get state contracts; and increase drug treatment money. He also would appoint African-Americans to state boards and commissions - and to the bench.

"Some of the proposals seem like he is playing catch-up with where Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has been for quite some time," said Townsend campaign spokesman Peter Hamm.

The contract comes as the race between Ehrlich and Democrat Townsend enters what promises to be its most bare-knuckled stretch. Ehrlich has said he expects a repeat of the 1998 race, in which the Glendening campaign ran 11th-hour ads portraying Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey as an enemy of civil rights.

Ehrlich vows not to be felled by such a tactic, and says he is planning pre-emptive television ads on the topic. "We are expecting it and we are going to be ready this time," he said. "It's basically race and guns, and guns and race from the Townsend campaign."

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