Jack Kemp visits city to support Ehrlich bid

Candidate also unveils plan for people with disabilities

October 29, 2002|By Tim Craig and Sarah Koenig | Tim Craig and Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp endorsed Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in his bid for governor yesterday and urged voters to reject attempts by Democrats to portray him as an archconservative.

Earlier in the day, Ehrlich underscored his message of inclusiveness, rolling out a plan to help people with disabilities.

Kemp, who coined the phrase "bleeding heart conservative," said during his visit to Baltimore that Democratic nominee Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is desperately attacking Ehrlich because his message has caught on.

"It is the last refuge of a desperate campaign to call Bob extreme," said Kemp, who was Bob Dole's running mate in the 1996 presidential campaign. "I think her comments are fallacious, fraudulent and misguided to say the least."

The Townsend campaign responded by saying Kemp, too, is an "extreme conservative."

"The last refuge of a so-called moderate is to bring in a conservative extremist like Jack Kemp," said Peter Hamm, a Townsend spokesman.

In the past week, Townsend has stepped up her criticism of Ehrlich's congressional voting record.

Kemp said Ehrlich and his running mate, Michael S. Steele, are "progressive conservatives" who believe in policies that will rehabilitate blighted communities, spur economic growth and reduce crime.

"This is the best gubernatorial and lieutenant governor ticket in America this year," Kemp said while campaigning with Ehrlich and Steele in Pen Lucy.

Kemp, who lives in Bethesda, is a former congressman from Buffalo, N.Y., who later served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President George Bush.

Kemp also endorsed yesterday the Rev. John A. Heath, an African-American minister who is a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates in District 43.

Ehrlich also visited Vesta Inc. in Adelphi, where he presented his 15-page proposal to "repair" the state's mental health system "from years of neglect."

Dubbed the "New Freedom Initiative," a central component of the plan is to elevate the Governor's Office for Individuals with Disabilities to a cabinet-level office, renamed the Department of Disability Services.

"But what is equally clear is that [mental health] has not been a priority. For me, it will be a priority," Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich says he would develop a plan to start closing state institutions and moving people into expanded, community-based care in compliance with a Supreme Court decision requiring that only the most serious cases be institutionalized.

He also plans to create a committee to find more housing for the disabled and promote education for disabled children and adults. Ehrlich's proposal is remarkably similar to one Townsend unveiled two weeks ago.

"We have precious little to criticize in Ehrlich's plan because he stole it from us," Hamm said.

Ehrlich says his plan is based on recommendations in a report last year by the Maryland Civil Rights Coalition for People with Disabilities.

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