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Kennedy calls ehrlich a nazi { September 21 2002 }

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Townsend Fires New Strategist For 'Nazi' Remark

By Lori Montgomery and Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 21, 2002; Page A01

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's gubernatorial campaign last night fired a political consultant who vowed on his first day on the job to portray Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as a "Nazi" to African American voters in Prince George's County.

The campaign fired Julius Henson, a strategist wooed by both camps in the Maryland governor's race for his ability to turn out black voters, after comments he made in an interview with The Washington Post.

"Bobby Ehrlich is a Nazi. His record is horrible, atrocious," Henson said in a telephone interview. "In Prince George's County, we'll define him as the Nazi that he is. Once we do that, I think people will vote for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend."

Townsend's campaign spokesman, Peter Hamm, disavowed Henson's remarks, calling them "insensitive and irresponsible." Hamm referred further questions to Henson's official employer, the state Democratic Party's coordinated campaign. Late yesterday, officials there said they would not keep Henson on the campaign.

"Those comments are unfortunate, and we will not be able to consider Mr. Henson for employment at this time," said Karen White, director of the coordinated campaign.

At Ehrlich headquarters, spokesman Paul E. Schurick said he was stunned by Townsend's decision to hire Henson and then by the rapidity with which the campaign dropped him.

"This is a directionless operation," Schurick said. "This is pathetic."

Meanwhile, Ehrlich began running a new television ad yesterday that denounces his Democratic opponent as part of an administration tainted by corruption but that also tries to persuade voters to ignore Townsend's jabs at his record.

"Instead of trying to debate real solutions, Ms. Townsend is trying to scare you with negative ads and fear to stay in power," Ehrlich says in the 30-second spot airing on major stations in Washington. "That's just wrong, and so are their ads."

The new commercial came on the same day that Henson had reached an agreement to turn out voters in Prince George's County for the Nov. 5 election. U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), who initially recommended Henson as "probably the best field guy in the state," said he is encouraging White to reconsider the decision to fire Henson. "I think she should keep him," Wynn said. "Perhaps an apology to Mr. Ehrlich is in order."

Four years ago, Henson helped paint GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey as a right-wing conservative opposed to civil rights, a strategy that helped persuade a record percentage of African American voters to cast ballots for Townsend and Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).

Yesterday, Henson vowed to do the same for Townsend and running mate Charles R. Larson, stirring Prince George's voters to the polls by showing them that Ehrlich is "really a bad man."

Henson accused Ehrlich, a four-term congressman from suburban Baltimore, of voting to cut education spending and funding for Head Start classes. In the early 1990s, Henson said, Ehrlich tried to stop "black people from moving to Baltimore County" as part of a federal initiative to close public housing and move residents to more prosperous neighborhoods.

"He should be running in Germany in 1942, not Maryland in 2002," Henson said.

Henson predicted that Ehrlich would respond by asking, "If I'm so terrible, why do I have this black man as a running mate?" a reference to former state GOP chairman Michael S. Steele.

But Henson said Ehrlich may simply have "felt sorry for [Steele] because he needs money to pay his mortgage." Steele is president of an unprofitable consulting firm, and lenders have twice in the past year initiated foreclosure proceedings against his Largo home.

Whether or not Henson is rehired, Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University, said Ehrlich should expect more tough talk from Townsend and her allies as they seek to stem her slide in the polls. This week, two independent polls showed Ehrlich taking a slim lead over Townsend for the first time in a contest that Townsend once dominated by a 15-point margin.

"She's doing what she has to do," Crenson said. "She has to attack. It's too close."

Crenson said that the attacks will put Ehrlich on the defensive but that he will probably respond in kind. "He can blame her for everything that went wrong during the Glendening administration," he said.

Yesterday, Ehrlich did just that with his new 30-second ad. The spot features Ehrlich himself as the narrator.

"We've had eight years of the Glendening-Townsend administration . . . and they still haven't fixed the mess in Annapolis," he says. "Corruption, budget deficits and traffic jams are a way of life."

Schurick said the decision to run the ad was in part a reaction to a Townsend spot that began running Tuesday. It depicts Ehrlich as an enemy of public education.

"They want to talk about Bob's votes on something from seven or eight years ago and change the subject from traffic jams and crime and the fact that the state is broke," Schurick said.

He said it is completely coincidental that Ehrlich's ad began airing the same day Henson was hired -- and fired. Schurick said that about two months ago the campaign considered hiring Henson to turn out votes for the Republican but that the two sides never reached an agreement.

If Henson now considers Ehrlich a Nazi, Schurick said, "the guy obviously has had an amazing epiphany."

Henson confirmed that he met with Ehrlich but said he quickly discovered that Ehrlich had cast a variety of votes that he and his aides could not defend.

"That meeting convinced me that something is very wrong here," Henson said.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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