Townsend pledges $11-an-hour wage for Md. employees

Ehrlich a no-show at rally of church-based coalition

October 14, 2002|By David Nitkin and Howard Libit | David Nitkin and Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend pledged yesterday to pay state workers at least $11 an hour if elected governor, endorsing the living-wage platform of a church-based coalition that is planning a sizable get-out-the vote-effort in Baltimore and in Montgomery County.

The Democratic nominee made the commitment at a Cherry Hill rally attended by more than 1,500 people, organized by Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development and Action in Montgomery. The groups united to push for education funding, community renewal and mental health, drug treatment and other issues.

Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had promised at a similar June rally to attend, but organizers learned at the last minute that he would not be there.

"We all heard him. He said he would accept the challenge," said the Rev. Marshall Prentice, leader of People United to Live in a Safe Environment. "Actions speak louder than words. He's a no-show. This is more than disappointment. This is just downright disrespectful."

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said Ehrlich had a scheduling conflict. He attended part of the Washington Redskins football game, then went to fund-raisers in Southern Maryland and Baltimore.

"It's not about disrespect or excuses to the membership of BUILD," DeLeaver said. "There are three weeks left in the race. Invitations are pouring in by the dozens. There are conflicts in scheduling everywhere."

Townsend committed herself to a statewide living wage and seven other components of the groups' agenda, including funding a legislative plan to spend an additional $1.3 billion on public education, $10 million yearly for neighborhood restoration and $138 million over four years for new classrooms in Montgomery.

Townsend aides said all pledges except the one concerning wages had been made previously or included in state budget projections.

Townsend said she would implement the wage increase in stages. In the first year, she said, she would boost the paychecks of about 2,000 state employees who now make less than $11 an hour, mainly aides in state hospitals and security guards.

The first-year cost would be less than $3 million, according to Michael Sarbanes, a top policy aide to Townsend. After that, the living wage would be incorporated into state contracts with vendors and, last, applied to organizations that receive state funding.

Sarbanes said the full cost of the policy is not known but that "the experience in jurisdictions that have done this is it doesn't result in a big increase" in cost.

As of March last year, 58 municipalities had living-wage ordinances on the books, including Baltimore, which passed landmark legislation in 1994. None is statewide or applies to state workers, according to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

"I think it is significant," Townsend said yesterday. "If you are going to have state employees paid with state money, this is the right thing to do."

Townsend said she was pleased that BUILD and the Montgomery County group would be distributing scorecards that show her endorsement of issues and Ehrlich's positions marked as "absent."

BUILD organizers pledge to have 500 volunteers on the street on Election Day, covering about a third of Baltimore's precincts. Action in Montgomery said 20,000 scorecards will be distributed in churches.

Ehrlich and Townsend met twice earlier in the day, trading barbs in Montgomery County as they continued trying to capture Jewish votes in the Washington suburbs.

In a pair of 45-minute candidate forums at two large Montgomery synagogues, the candidates emphasized their support for Israel and answered questions about issues including education and transportation.

"I've been proud to run on my record with regard to Israel," Ehrlich told a crowd of more than 300 at Har Shalom synagogue in Potomac. "I've been to Israel twice, and I have long been active in Jewish issues."

Townsend said at Har Shalom and nearby B'nai Israel synagogue that the fear and uncertainty surrounding the sniper shootings in the Washington area are similar to the feelings of Israeli Jews living among violence and suicide bombings.

"That's what Israel goes through, not just for a 10-day period, but year after year after year," said Townsend, who has visited Israel three times. "I lost my own father, who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist who was upset about my father's support for Israel."

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