Baltimore Press

Main Cheers Reserved for KennedyTownsend

This week’s Democratic Leadership Council convention in Baltimore made it clear that Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the DLC pick for the Governor’s mansion in Annapolis.

President Clinton praised Towsend’s leadership skills twice during his DLC speech on Wednesday. The only other politician who received as much mention was Vice President Al Gore. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is holding her first fund raiser for an expected Senate campaign this week in Manhattan, was only men­tioned once.

Towsend’s father, Robert F. Kennedy, was invoked at length, not only by Clinton but by five previous speakers as the grandfather of the New Democratic movement. Townsend was given the honor of chairing the convention — the first DLC meeting to ever occur outside Washington — even though Gov. Glendening was in attendance. Her co-chair for the event, Thomas Siebert, former U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, introduced her. “She is our most favorite player in Maryland,” he said, “someone who we believe to have her best days ahead of her. There is no better compliment I can give you. You are truly your father’s daughter.” Siebert worked for Bobby Kennedy in Washington in the ‘60s.
Townsend responded: “To be fair, I am also my mother’s daughter.”

Townsend’s speech, which touched lightly on issues ranging from police officers and education, was the longest of all the day’s speakers. She spoke of people “caring for their aging parents” as being “joyless,” and of the need to “expand the winner’s circle.”

An hour did not pass without a speaker bringing up Kennedy Townsend. According to a DLC staffer, a Townsend governorship in Maryland is considered vital for the New Democrat movement. To lose Maryland would be considered a major setback for the DLC. Besides the notable exception of President Clinton, the group’s primary inroads have been in state-level governments. Only four of the 170 politicians in attendance were congressmen. The rest were mayors, state legislators and governors.

The DLC and its centrist Third Way politics is looked upon warily by the majority of congressional democrats, even if House J Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt – was, in 1985, the first chairman of the ’ group. Success on the national level would entail the unlikely conversion of such hard-line liberals as Sen. Edward Kennedy.

J Al From, the President of DLC, said that although the total number of Democratic governors is in decline, the number of New Democratic gov­ernors is rising.

The Democratic Leadership Council is the ideological core of Clintonian politics. The mantra of “Bill’s legacy” was reverberating through the hall long before the President walked to the podium in the afternoon. Internationally, the DLC can claim success. New Democrat — and its credo of private sector growth, small government, and globalism — have toppled the Conservative gov­ernments of England, Israel, Germany, Netherlands, and Italy.

What Clinton addressed, and Townsend did not, was a topic vital to Baltimore: race.

Concern was voiced by many African American legislators at the conference that the Third Way will leave the inner cities behind, especially on its path over the information superhighway. Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry called it “almost criminal…it is the affirmation of the status quo, or 1 worse.”

Maryland State Sen. Delores Kelley said that “we need systemic change, not pilots or grant programs.” Wellington Webb, Mayor of Denver and President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said that although “like most black folk I was bom Democratic, raised Democratic, and will die Democratic, I am no longer interested in photo-ops without prop­er funding.” Jess Norwood, Mayor of Prichard, Ala., President of the African American Mayor’s Conference, said that “many cities have had internet access pass around their boundaries, and with public funding. People are being excluded.”

A recent study showed that African American families are less likely to purchase a computer and internet access than a white family at the same income level.

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