Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a still-unannounced candidate for governor, gathered dozens of endorsements yesterday during a daylong tour of Prince George's County that was marred by the death of a county councilman on his way to meet her.
Councilman Isaac J. Gourdine, 56, was killed in an automobile accident on the Capital Beltway that injured Marilynn Bland, a Gourdine aide and a member of the county school board. Bland was taken to Prince George's Hospital Center, where she was treated and released.
Gourdine and Bland, 40, were driving to the county administration building in Upper Marlboro at 11:30 a.m. when their car was struck from behind and forced into the rear of a tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder.
Council members canceled an office meeting with Townsend after learning of the accident, but four joined her on the steps of the administration building to pledge their support in the next election.
As they delivered their remarks, an aide whispered that the crash had been fatal. "It makes you realize you don't want to wait until somebody dies to praise them," Townsend said.
Townsend proceeded with a schedule of 13 stops that began with an 8 a.m. breakfast with county state senators and ended with a 3:30 p.m. rally at Prince George's Community College.
"It's what Councilman Gourdine would have wanted us to do," said Thomas Hendershot, a fellow council member who helped organize the schedule.
Early polls have found Townsend a heavy favorite in Prince George's, the state's second-largest jurisdiction and one where blacks make up a majority. A poll conducted for The Sun last month found Townsend leading Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. 71 percent to 11 percent among county voters in a potential match-up for governor. Ehrlich has not announced his candidacy.
"Prince George's County is a gold mine for the Democratic Party," said state Sen. Ulysses Currie, who met with Townsend for coffee and muffins at Rip's Country Inn in Bowie. "The message goes out, quite simply, that she's strong in Prince George's County and she'll win Prince George's County overwhelmingly."
Speaking to a luncheon gathering of black mayors and community activists in District Heights, Townsend promised that county residents would see her regularly.
"I'm here in Prince George's today not as a visitor," she said. "A visitor, as Shakespeare said, comes only in the summer season. I want to pledge to you that I am here for all seasons."
Townsend met privately with County Executive Wayne K. Curry, who was not among the senators, delegates and other officials who endorsed her yesterday.
Curry said he would abide by his schedule for announcing whom he will support for governor. He did not rule out seeking the office himself, saying, "I haven't foreclosed anything."
Yesterday's tour marked the most extensive day of campaigning for Townsend, who is looking to succeed Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a former Prince George's County executive. Glendening is barred from seeking a third term.
Though Townsend has not formally declared her candidacy, she said, "I'm here as a good lieutenant governor who dreams of other things."
Townsend's chief of staff, Alan Fleischmann, said her staff took leave time yesterday to avoid using state resources for a political cause, but he declined to call the tour a campaign event.
"It's more of an affirmation," he said, by politicians who have previously committed their support.
Still, the outlines of campaign themes began to emerge yesterday through a series of brief speeches. Townsend said she wants to create "high standards for kids" by improving education and health care, and to boost the prospects of small and minority businesses.