Amid concerns that her appeal to African-American voters might be wavering, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend spent yesterday reaching out to Maryland's black elected officials and emphasizing her family's political roots.
Townsend visited neighborhood centers in Baltimore with Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and patched up hurt feelings with Rep. Albert R. Wynn and black Prince George's County state senators.
The effort comes after a poll conducted for The Sun found that the Democrat's support among likely black voters has slipped over the past six months -- from 90 percent to 77 percent in a head-to-head matchup with Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the probable Republican nominee for governor.
The Townsend campaign played down the urgency of the numbers yesterday, pointing to surveys conducted for other candidates that show stronger support for Townsend among black Baltimore voters.
"This is early," Townsend said. "When we get out [Ehrlich's] record, and his lack of a plan, the choice is very clear."
Still, the lieutenant governor's campaign schedule yesterday underscored the importance of the African-American vote in Maryland, a cornerstone of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's two terms and a population that Ehrlich has tried to woo.
In Baltimore, Cummings and Townsend -- joined by Townsend's running mate, retired Adm. Charles R. Larson -- reminded black voters in East and West Baltimore of the civil rights legacy of Townsend's family.
"It was her family, John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and many others, who for many years made it clear that all men and women were created equal," Cummings told about 20 residents of Somerset-Monument East Senior Center. "It took a lot of people to knock down barriers to make it possible for Elijah Cummings and others."
Referring to an "F" grade given to Ehrlich by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Cummings warned that "if it were up to the people who had an 'F' in civil rights, I wouldn't be where I am today."
Townsend told the senior citizens about a letter she wrote former Alabama Gov. George Wallace when she was 10.
"I said, 'Could you hurry up and desegregate your colleges, because you're doing it so badly that I don't get to see my father?'" Townsend said. "I have to admit he never wrote me back."
Townsend said she never forgets those civil rights struggles because her office chair is the one used by her father, and inscribed on it are the names of two universities and a school system he fought to integrate. "That's what I go to work each day thinking about," she said.
Later, Townsend headed to Prince George's County, where leading black elected officials canceled an appearance with her two weeks ago, noting tension caused by her choosing a white running mate.
Yesterday, those politicians -- Wynn and state Sens. Ulysses Currie, Nathaniel Exum and Gloria G. Lawlah -- joined Townsend at a Bowie State University news conference in a display of unity.
The Prince George's officials said they met with Townsend earlier in the day, and secured her pledge to back projects they care about in the state's second-most populous county.
"What we were able to do was merge her blueprint and our vision together to create a really good platform that people can get excited about," Wynn said. "The bottom line is, we came away with a reinvigorated partnership to elect Kathleen Kennedy Townsend."
Wynn said Townsend agreed, among other things, to add state government buildings in Prince George's County.
"You look around, we don't have many," he said. "We're going to get more. She has made an arrangement or agreement, for when we do build -- and we're not necessarily going to build tomorrow -- but when we do, Prince George's County will be at the top of the list, as it should be."
Townsend also reaffirmed her commitment to a 25 percent minority participation goal for government contracts, and to education-related initiatives, including bringing more full-time faculty to historically black Bowie State, the politicians said.
Despite appearances, not all ill feelings were erased.
Exum appeared to be a reluctant participant, saying that he felt "co-opted" by the Townsend campaign, which brought out a large banner and plastered stickers on every shirt within reach. "It wasn't supposed to be a rah-rah rally for the lieutenant governor," Exum said. "That's my view, but my view doesn't always hold."
Ehrlich, Townsend's likely GOP opponent, has emphasized his efforts to reach out to black voters, including picking an African-American running mate, Michael S. Steele. Townsend dismissed that outreach, describing Ehrlich as a candidate who is only now saying, "Look at me, I'm walking the streets."
By contrast, Townsend said. "I've been walking the streets for many, many years."
While visiting the Druid Hill YMCA with Townsend, Cummings said he is trying to put together an event for this week in which Baltimore's black senators -- other than Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, who is backing Ehrlich -- would reaffirm their support for Townsend.
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun