Pledge outlines `shared vision'

Townsend signs pact with black lawmakers

Aid for schools, businesses

Caucus members say Ehrlich stole ideas

Election 2002

October 15, 2002|By Howard Libit and Tim Craig | Howard Libit and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend signed a "shared vision" with Baltimore-area black lawmakers yesterday, pledging her support for such initiatives as expanded drug treatment, more aid to historically black colleges and additional state contracts for minority businesses.

The agreement - under development since last month's primary election - was similar to a pledge signed last week by Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., prompting black legislators yesterday to accuse the GOP of stealing their ideas.

"This was absconded from us," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city's Senate delegation. "It's stolen almost word for word."

Ehrlich denied that any theft took place, saying the items in his pledge are issues he has been promoting throughout his campaign for governor.

"Obviously, we've been talking about issues with a number of black legislators," he said. "If you look at the issues, it's a compilation of what we've been talking about since March."

Townsend signed the agreement in a ceremony at New Shiloh Baptist Church joined by U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and most of the African-American delegates and senators from Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties. Members of the Morgan State University choir performed.

Her commitment to back more funding for public schools and lead paint poisoning prevention prompted Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley to strongly endorse her candidacy again - something he had been reluctant to do early in the campaign.

"Our first-graders scored above the national average in reading and math for the first time in 30 years because of the partnership we have with the state," O'Malley told a crowd of more than 200 people. "That was a partnership brought about by the Democratic Party. That was a partnership brought about by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend."

In an interview after signing the agreement - which was displayed on four large posters - Townsend said she believes all the items were included in the 32-page "Blueprint for Maryland's Future" that she released near the start of the campaign.

"It gives people a better way to visualize my blueprint," Townsend said. "I think all of it was already in there."

She told the crowd that she is "not a Bobby-come-lately. Your fight is my fight. Your cause, my cause."

But African-American lawmakers said that having a Democratic gubernatorial candidate sign such a document for the first time sends an important message to black voters.

"This is a historic moment," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who spent the last month meeting with lawmakers and the Townsend campaign to craft the agreement. "We wanted to be able to establish to our community that when they accuse us of not negotiating their interests and following the Democratic leadership blindly, this shows that's not the case."

Rawlings acknowledged that much of what is in the agreement already was part of Townsend's campaign. But he said this gives black lawmakers a signed document committing to their priorities if she's elected governor. "Before, there was always somebody else defining our agenda for us," he said.

He and other members of the Benjamin Banneker Caucus of Baltimore-area black delegates accused Republicans of trying to "co-opt our hard work."

They said that the pledge Ehrlich signed was almost identical to yesterday's Democratic version, though Ehrlich's didn't include quite as many issues. "Ehrlich signed on to a diluted version of our proposal that he stole," Rawlings said.

The only Baltimore-area black delegate not a signatory to yesterday's agreement was Del. Tony E. Fulton, who has been publicly friendly to Ehrlich.

Rawlings suggested that Fulton - as a member of the caucus - received all the draft documents and shared them with Ehrlich's campaign. Fulton did not respond to phone messages yesterday.

"Ehrlich's task is to siphon off 15 to 20 percent of the African-American vote, and he will do anything," Rawlings said. "He doesn't care about these issues. He did not collaborate, he just handed his agreement down to the African-American community."

The similarities between the two documents include promising to "fully fund" the state's commitment to provide more money to black colleges - particularly Coppin State College - as required by an agreement with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. Both also back expanding faith-based initiatives.

But there are some differences. Ehrlich promised to fix "our broken juvenile justice system," while Townsend emphasized "holding state agencies accountable" to meeting state goals for minority business contracts.

Ehrlich said the similarities indicate that he has been in touch with Maryland's black community leaders and recognizes their priorities.

"These issues are nothing new for us," Ehrlich said. "There are members of the black caucus who are friendly to us, who have been asking us to do this in one form or another for a while."

Later yesterday, Ehrlich and Townsend appeared at a forum sponsored by Baltimore's Safe and Sound Kids Campaign and the Maryland Association of Student Councils.

Townsend noted what she called "clear differences" between her positions and Ehrlich's congressional voting record. Ehrlich responded to her accusations - such as when she pointed out that he voted in 1995 to cut $137 million from Head Start - by grinning and shaking his head.

He said he thinks Townsend's "tone" will backfire. "The definition of leadership is not to criticize. The definition of leadership is having a vision," Ehrlich said.

Townsend pledged to continue supporting after-school and preschool programs such as Head Start and make them a priority in her budget.

Ehrlich said he supports those programs as well - noting that since 1995, he has voted for increased Head Start money. But he said that as governor, he would not increase funding for at least a year or two because of the budget shortfall.

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