GOP's Ehrlich spends day appealing to state's voters across ethnic lines

He criticizes Townsend for using `the race card'

October 21, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Republican Robert. L. Ehrlich Jr. spent yesterday trying to nail down votes across Maryland's ethnic spectrum, visiting African-American Christians in Prince George's County, attending a rally thrown by Orthodox Jews in Pikesville, and securing an endorsement from Democratic City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. at an "Italian-Americans For Ehrlich" event downtown.

"I'm covering all the bases today," the Baltimore County congressman told the crowd in Pikesville. "Democrat, Republican, black, white -- it doesn't matter. This is an inclusive campaign."

Since the gubernatorial debate last month at Morgan State University, Ehrlich has expanded his stump speech, devoting a significant portion to contend that his Democratic opponent, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, is using race inappropriately in the campaign.

"Now the room is going to get very quiet," he usually begins. "Because I'm going to talk to you about something really touchy."

At the debate Sept. 26, at which Ehrlich was booed so loudly that organizers from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had to chastise the crowd several times, Townsend mentioned America's history of lynching, slavery and Jim Crow laws as a setup for highlighting Ehrlich's congressional vote against affirmative action.

Townsend uses the same political advertising firm that ran ads critical of Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's civil rights record during the final days of the 1998 governor's race. By spreading the word that he thinks Townsend is using "the race card," Ehrlich appears to be trying to immunize himself against ads that could attempt to paint him as a racist. He said he is trying to show "the contrast between the two campaigns."

The audience who gathered at a Jewish school yesterday in Pikesville gasped when Ehrlich told them that Townsend supporters at the debate threw Oreo cookies at his running mate, Michael S. Steele -- a slur symbolizing an African-American considered "white on the inside."

Ehrlich then mentioned an article in the Jewish Times in which a reporter wrote that Townsend "doesn't understand, after all of these years, why a Jewish voter could consider her opponent."

"Politics of division by race and country of origin -- it's always worked," Ehrlich said. "The Democrats have decided to take that race card off the shelf. ... The first time the race card does not work, will be the last time it's tried."

But there was a hiccup in his message of unity yesterday when Hayim Pollack, a Pikesville accountant, introduced Ehrlich to the crowd. Noting that the Jewish community cares about crime, he bemoaned the violent neighborhoods nearby and added that Jews do not perpetuate crime.

"I mean, you don't hear Afro-Americans walking into a Jewish neighborhood and saying, `Oh my God, we're going to get robbed by an accountant,'" Pollack said, to laughter that included Ehrlich's.

Asked later about the comment, Ehrlich shook his head and said, "What to say? ... I think it was supposed to be an accountants joke."

Speaking to Italian-Americans who ate pizza and tried to keep warm outside the Public Works Museum a couple of hours later, Ehrlich did not mention race. Rather, he accepted a large key to Little Italy that looked to be made of bread, and welcomed the endorsement of Councilman D'Adamo, a longtime friend.

D'Adamo said he had never before backed a Republican, but thought Ehrlich would "do the right thing" for the state.

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