Byline: Margie Hyslop, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Maryland state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV crossed party lines and defied racial expectations yesterday to endorse U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s bid to become the state's first Republican governor in more than three decades.
"Senator Clarence Mitchell is a member of America's first family of civil rights," Mr. Ehrlich said. "His independence and commitment to economic and political empowerment for all make him a valuable member of my team."
Mr. Mitchell, a Democrat who represents a historically black voting district in Baltimore, said he decided to endorse Mr. Ehrlich after giving candidates from both parties opportunities to respond to the needs of his district and black voters.
He said he found the Baltimore County Republican more responsive than the Democratic front-runner, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who plans to announce her candidacy tomorrow.
"From now until November, I'm going to lay out specific areas where he has responded to black voters and she has not," said Mr. Mitchell, who had threatened to bolt the Democratic Party this year in outrage over Gov. Parris N. Glendening's redistricting plan.
Mr. Ehrlich said he looked forward to the Democrat's support in a campaign that would attempt to address "old problems," such as failing schools and justice systems, with "new ideas."
The Mitchell endorsement comes just days after Mr. Ehrlich, who is white, called on Democrats to shun "race-baiting" tactics used in past campaigns. Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in Maryland, where blacks have overwhelmingly voted Democratic.
Responding to Mr. Mitchell's endorsement of Mr. Ehrlich, Townsend spokesman William Mann said, "We're very proud of the people who are supporting the lieutenant governor."
Mr. Mitchell, the grandson of civil rights leader Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., who lobbied Congress for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he would provide details about how the Republican candidate has responed to black voters but noted as "symbolic" Mr. Ehrlich's support for a library at Baltimore's historically black Morgan State University.
Morgan State students protested at the State House in the spring to urge lawmakers to fund the library, which had been postponed while money for other projects at state schools remained in the budget. Mr. Ehrlich signaled his support immediately, Mr. Mitchell said, but he got no response from Mrs. Townsend, who could have intervened.
Mr. Mitchell also criticized Mrs. Townsend's statement Thursday in support of a moratorium on the death penalty as being a "day late and a dollar short."
"When I was leading …