Vol. 10, No. 24

June 13-19, 2002

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The Democrats and the Governor’s Mansion

It would have been a bummer of a summer for Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley.

Ego-driven politicians are never particularly good at normal stuff, like tending tomato plants. But had O’Malley taken on Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, the three months leading up to Maryland’s September primary would have been brutal indeed.

He would have spent most of his waking hours, hind end in chair and phone affixed to face, hustling and begging bucks for television commercials.

The remainder of his day would have been devoted to mastering the tricky dance of making his case to Marylanders without appearing to slap around a thin woman. To win, he might have demeaned himself and he surely would have damaged his party.

That leaves in all certainty a November ballot pitting Townsend, a seemingly competent and bright woman, against U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican with more skill and potential than Marylanders have seen at this level in quite some time.

With O’Malley free now to plan his summer vacation, Townsend has the unimpeded task of preparing for the general election. We think her main goal could be summed up in three words: To Be Liked. (We told Michael Dukakis that in 1988, but he was beyond hope.)

People want to feel comfortable with their governor, especially considering all the hard-edged policy coming at them from Washington.

Introducing Townsend to Calvert County, Congressman Steny Hoyer praised her “strength of personality and the keenness of her mind” as well as “her unassuming and gracious demeanor.”

But too often, outside her charmed circle, Townsend comes off as starchy and standoffish. Stories and columns about her suggest that she’s already alienated segments of the news media. That may seem minor now, but there will come times when she needs a break, when she will prefer that stories read “Townsend said” not “Townsend admitted.”

Perhaps she listens too much to the people that Harry Truman called “the smart boys” — the consultants and handlers that Truman rejected. (It was also Truman who said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”)

The stated goal of these handlers is to keep candidates “on message.” In fact, their true aim is to take over candidates’ brains like the Borg in Star Trek.

We’re hoping that Townsend’s capacious brain will prove too tough to conquer. We’re also hoping that for her sake and ours, we see the “real” Townsend this summer.

There’s nothing about our “indispensable destiny” that a little draft beer and crab spice won’t cure.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly