Skip to comments.The Next Kennedy (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend)
Posted on 07/27/2002 8:14:50 AM PDT by Pokey78
On a June afternoon, the streets of Baltimore sweat like the inside of a humidifier. But the shirt-clinging stickiness does not hamper Maryland's lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. As befits a member of the tribe of Robert F. Kennedy (now 51, Kathleen is his oldest child), she has no discernible body fat and is an avid outdoorswoman who once climbed the Matterhorn in the snow. At the run-down Arena Playhouse, she plows through the door, all thatch and teeth and factory-issue Kennedy vigor.
Trailing behind her is Maryland's fireplug senator Barbara Mikulski, as well as Martin Sheen, a longtime friend of the Kennedy family, who is introduced as "the real president" since he plays a tastefully liberal commander in chief on television's "The West Wing." Both are campaigning for Townsend in her quest to become Maryland's next governor this fall. The lobby fills with well-wishers and journalists. In broken English, a Japanese reporter asks Townsend how it feels to be regarded as one of the only successes left in the Kennedy family. She cocks her head, then affectionately cups his face. "I guess it's better than the alternative," she says. "No success."
Inside, the teenage members of an inner-city after-school dance/theater troupe go through their warm-up paces. Townsend's head juts up and down like a fishing bob, as the sound system blasts Michael Jackson. Not every Kennedy campaign would welcome a reporter from a conservative political magazine to watch its candidate's every move. But as I run into Alan Fleischmann, Townsend's personable chief of staff, he acts as if they've just won a contest. "We're delighted you're writing about Kathleen," he says, directing my attention to a recent National Review piece that praised the scandal-free, moderate Townsend as a Kennedy conservatives "do not have to abhor."
Around Annapolis, Fleischmann is known as everything from "Rasputin" to "The Nanny" for his interjections and interceptions whenever difficult questions, and sometimes not so difficult ones, are directed his boss's way. One wouldn't expect to find him in action here. First, this is a low-pressure gig, a goodwill tour in which Townsend is supposed to introduce Sheen while taking victory laps for funding this particular after-school program. Second, this is the ideal Kennedy milieu, with all the celebrities and chipper, at-risk children.
After her introduction, Sheen takes the stage. He talks to the amateur thespians gathered at his feet about their "craft," trying awkwardly to speak their language: Shakespeare, he says, "is like the rap of its day." As Sheen expounds on his MC Shakespeare theory, Townsend's eyes dart nervously and habitually to Fleischmann, who, like a third-base coach, gives her visual and verbal cues, though none seem necessary since the only task at hand is not falling off the stage.
As the program concludes, Sheen and Townsend take a seat on the floor, surrounded by the children, who sing-shout a spiritual, "Hosanna, Forever We Worship You." A devout Catholic who often discusses matters spiritual, Townsend shows no concern over the commingling of church and state. She and Sheen join in, attempting to clap with the children. The children clap. Then the visitors clap. One girl tries to give Sheen an on-the-spot rhythm tutorial, until the hopeless Sheen collapses in laughter. But Townsend doesn't even notice. She lumbers along in erratic clip-clops like a wounded Clydesdale, happily off the beat.
In many ways, Townsend has spent her entire life clapping off the beat. She became the only Kennedy to lose an election when she ran for Congress two years after moving to Maryland in 1986. In a family where everyone was expected to wait their turn, but females never got one, she is the only Kennedy woman to hold elective office--as Parris Glendening's lieutenant governor since 1994. Then there are the nicknames differentiating her from the rest of the clan, everything from "Clean Kathleen" to "The Nun," which the married mother of four briefly considered becoming.
Of all the RFK idolaters--more than her siblings, more even than Arthur Schlesinger Jr.--Kathleen is said to hold her father dearest. Sixteen years old when he was killed, she was mature enough to know that she lost not just a dad, but what one biographer described as the Kennedy who most defined Kennedyness. She was old enough to appreciate his civil rights stances, his melancholic post-JFK soul-searching, his strict regimen requiring his children to recite current events and poetry at dinner, and his exhilarating adventures in which he'd lead his brood hurtling down ski slopes, through white-water rapids, and along a backyard zipwire set up by Uncle Jack's Green Berets at Hickory Hill, the Bobby Kennedy estate in McLean, Virginia.
Kathleen was also cognizant of how far her family fell, when, after her father's death, her mother Ethel melted down, losing all semblance of control over Kathleen's wayward siblings. The family's numerous animals, including a pet pig, were allowed to defecate indoors. Her late brother Michael (who died skiing into a tree) was known to answer the phone with the words, "Confusion here." Many of her brothers became so trouble-prone and drug-addled (David died of a heroin overdose in 1984) that Aunt Jackie made efforts to keep her children far away.
As Townsend told the authors of "Growing Up Kennedy" in 1983: "There was great pressure from Daddy on us to do well. Mummy just couldn't do that. She had her hands full just bringing them up. He was someone you could turn to, play with, and talk to. . . . After he was gone, the atmosphere changed. Basically, there are two aspects to being a Kennedy. The first is that the family has been given a lot and should give a lot in return. The second is that the Kennedys are famous. Without Daddy, the focus tended more to the second."
By all accounts, Townsend handled the pressure and the grief as well as or better than anyone in the family. She internalized the RFK creed ("a Kennedy never cries"), along with the words of Hickory Hill's house poet, Aeschylus: "In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God."
"She was very grown-up by 16," says RFK speechwriter Adam Walinsky, a longtime friend who talked with Kathleen the night before the funeral. "She was looking around, trying to make sense of this spiritually, politically, in every other way. That's a tough way to grow up. You've given your father over to public service, then he gets murdered. That's not a prescription for a stable childhood. It seems to her enormous credit that she came through absolutely solid. I've never heard her complain."
But even if Townsend's predominant selling points are her stoicism and moral rectitude (she spent the weeks after her father's death, in tribute to him, teaching children on a Navajo reservation), she has become the 7-Up of politics: Like the refreshing soft drink nicknamed the "Un-Cola," Townsend has been called the "Un-Kennedy," defined not by what she is, but what she isn't. As Kennedy-watchers will note, Townsend has not parked any dates at the bottom of Poucha Pond (Uncle Teddy). She has not slept with a 14-year-old babysitter (brother Michael), had a messy divorce (brother Joe), or a nasty drug habit (brother Bobby). She has not been accused of raping anyone on a beach (cousin Willie), murdering anyone with a golf club (cousin Michael Skakel), or throwing a security guard through a metal detector, trashing a yacht, and acting like an all-purpose ass (cousin Patrick).
In most families, not doing these things would merely be considered a baseline indicator of fitness for office. In the Kennedy family, it's considered nothing to sneeze at. "She enjoys all the benefits of the Kennedy name," says one family intimate, "but she doesn't have the baggage, because she's not one of the womanizing, alcoholic men."
Instead, what Townsend is, is unremarkable. She serves in a medium-sized, unremarkable state where she occupies an unremarkable position (Maryland's constitution bars the lieutenant governor from assuming any duties not delegated by the governor). In a family in which even the runts are renowned for their charisma, hers is considered average. "It's not that she's colorless," former White House counsel Lanny Davis once said. "But she is not colorful. She is normal." Still, for all her unremarkableness, a remarkable thing has happened: Deservedly or not, Townsend seems to be on everybody's short list for stardom.
Since the day she was elected on the ticket of her patron Glendening (who didn't know her well at the time--she had served in unremarkable positions in the Maryland Department of Education and the Clinton Justice Department), she has been considered a favorite to become governor. ("Go for it!" said Oprah.) At the Democratic Leadership Council, where they mint triangulated, third-way politicians, president Al From called her "among the brightest young stars in the New Democrat movement." Bill Clinton himself speculated that "maybe someday I'll be knocking on doors for her when she's running for national office."
That someday seems to be inching ever nearer. Not only was Townsend regularly touted throughout 2000 as vice-presidential material ("Bobby's girl could lead Al Gore to the White House," panted one headline), but she is already being mentioned as a VP frontrunner for 2004. That is, if it's not beneath her. In magazines from Newsweek to Parade, Townsend has even been discussed in the same hallowed breaths as Hillary Clinton as a possibility to become our first female president. Former DNC chair Ed Rendell has already expressed hope that he will end up "chief of staff in the Townsend White House."
All these premature coronations have left many longtime Townsend-watchers in Maryland baffled. Says a reporter who's covered her for years, "There's a real disconnect between her national reputation and that in the state, where it's quite mixed." Indeed, many are asking a nagging question before Kennedy groupies are permitted to hand over the nation's car keys: Regardless of whether Townsend can fend off her Republican challenger, four-term congressman Bob Ehrlich, is she qualified to be governor?
FOR A KENNEDY, there are few friendlier places to give a speech than the Council House in Prince George's County. Maryland, it should be noted, is commonly referred to as a Democratic state of middle temperament. Democrats enjoy a 2-to-1 registration advantage, and no Republican governor has been elected here since Spiro Agnew in 1966. Even so, Republicans can make it interesting by picking off moderates, as in 1994, when they reduced the Glendening/Townsend ticket to squeaking by on a margin of 6,000 votes.
To win, Ehrlich's camp figures it must not only beat Townsend in 21 of 24 counties, but also chip away her overwhelming margins in the liberal bulkhead population centers of Baltimore, Montgomery County, and Prince George's. Townsend, like any good Democrat or Kennedy, is banking on bringing out the elderly, the women, and African Americans.
With all the elderly, black women in the day room of the Council House retirement complex, Townsend's victory seems a foregone conclusion. Beside a Heimlich chart instructing seniors how to dislodge food that might go down the wrong pipe during a spirited bingo game, a poster announces, "The next governor of Maryland comes to Council House." The crowd is a swirl of rose perfume, peach-tinted glasses, and oversized earrings. I plunk down at a table of senior women, asking if they know who's running against Townsend. "We don't really care," says one. "I've always been with the Kennedy family. I'm just sorry the other one got killed in a plane crash--I had great hopes for him."
A procession of 17 local Democratic officials take the podium for the requisite pandering. When Townsend finally arrives after getting hung up in traffic, she apologizes with convincing sincerity to the patient seniors, who are looking forward to being served a slice of Camelot along with their light refreshments. Any Kennedy in election season knows to sprinkle in plenty of ancestral references, but Townsend skips to the money shot in her opening line: "I'm sorry I'm late. I have to tell you that my grandmother Rose always said be on time. She's looking down from heaven right now, and she's not pleased." The seniors, naturally, are.
Townsend has come to launch her prescription drug initiative, which promises to reduce the cost of medications for uninsured seniors by at least 28 percent. As she finishes her spiel, voters reciprocate with hugs and origami flowers they've made during craft time. Just for sport, I sidle up to Townsend, armed with yesterday's Baltimore Sun, in which a chain drugstore lobbyist decries the plan as untenable for pharmacies since it would reimburse only 90 percent of the drugs' costs. When I ask her about it, I expect her to shoo me like a fly with a boilerplate response, since I know nothing about the subject, and this is one of her pet campaign initiatives. She has surely anticipated most criticisms--or at least the ones from yesterday's paper.
Instead, her infectious smile does a slow fade. She looks as if she's just been asked to hand over her lunch money. She fumbles for words, saying her campaign has worked with lots of pharmacists, that they've really reached out, that, "Uh, basically, you know what, I can talk to you. But if you're really trying to get background, why don't you go ahead and talk to [one of her aides]." At that moment, a young, statistics-spewing aide snatches me aside and fills me in on cash-and-carry markets, dispensing fees, volume increases, and other specifics that neither I, nor Townsend, it appears, know anything about.
I am satisfied with her aide's answer, and don't plan to press the issue, when a few minutes later Townsend's press secretary, Len Foxwell, approaches me, saying, "Can I give Kathleen another chance to answer that question? She was distracted over there." I have been asked for many favors by political staffs over the years: to keep their member on background, to send them a copy of a piece in which they're quoted, to never call again. But I've not been asked for a mulligan. "Uhh, yeah, okay, I guess," I assent.
Anxious for her to "close the loop" on her do-over, Foxwell grabs Townsend, whispers some talking points, and sends her back my way. Scratching her head tentatively like someone who has just crammed for an oral exam, Townsend begins, "On the record, you want to ask the question, 'How are we going to pay for this?'" Actually, we were on the record the first time, but yes. Foxwell helpfully restates the question. "First of all, wait," she says shakily, "We're the richest state [pause, start over], highest family income state in the country, one of the lowest child poverty rates, I think we can find in our budget the $8million to pay for this."
Because of Townsend performances like this, Bob Ehrlich, a moderate Republican from a lunchbucket suburban district in Baltimore, is licking his chops. He has challenged her to debate early and often, and when I ask her if she has any plans to debate, she says she does, but that they first have to get through primary season (she's running unopposed). Even Townsend laughs when Foxwell adds, "Ross Pierpont is a dogged campaigner."
Pierpont is Ehrlich's Republican competition, if you can call him that. He is an 84-year-old retired physician and fringe candidate who has run for nearly every office in the state and has lost, by his own estimate, "19 or 20" straight elections. He has lost to the best, and lost to the worst, and of those, he says Townsend "is the most inept candidate by a wide margin. She's an airhead of the first order. She's a trained bear. She has two or three people around her . . . I call them the 'babysitters' . . . telling her to open her mouth, to shut her mouth, to wave her arms. It's like training a bear."
To drive his point home, Pierpont has published an 18-page pamphlet entitled "Save Our State from the Costs and Consequences of More Kennedy Incompetence." He also releases Townsend's office personnel directory, which lists 15 people, by far the largest staff a Maryland lieutenant governor has ever employed. In fact, Townsend may be the only lieutenant governor in America to have a chief of staff, an assistant chief of staff, and two deputy chiefs of staff. Once when she met with the Frederick News-Post's editorial board, she showed up with so many staffers that the editors asked half of them to stand outside.
Here, it seems prudent to point out that Townsend graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, has a law degree, is an avid history reader, is married to David Townsend, a reputedly brilliant tutor in the St. John's College great books program, and has herself authored several thoughtful articles on religion, virtue, and voluntarism for the Washington Monthly going back 20 years. In short, Townsend is not stupid, though she often plays it on TV.
Earlier this year, when trying to make a good showing at the Preakness Stakes, she enthused to Baltimore's WBAL radio about the prospects of "Warmonger" (as opposed to "War Emblem," the name by which the Kentucky Derby winner is known to most). Asked to recount her favorite play after the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl last year, she said, "I loved it when we made that football. The Giants had just made a football, and we came right back." Standing up for his boss, purportedly an alum of innumerable touch-football games at Hickory Hill, Alan Fleischmann said the noise on the field made it hard for Townsend to hear: "She knows football better than anyone I know. This is a woman who loves football."
But Townsend doesn't get into trouble only when she's talking sports. Two years ago, at an address to Hispanic activists, she spoke of the need to hire people who "speak Hispanish" because "Hispanic is an important language to learn." While addressing gay-rights supporters, she referred to a nearby statue of Thurgood Marshall as a "statute." Twice. One reporter wrote of having to explain to her what the word "fatalist" meant. Another wrote of her lip visibly quivering when he pressed her for her position on slot machines (her staff told him she hadn't been feeling well that morning).
To be sure, Townsend has improved a great deal since she arrived on the political scene. Once a dowdy dresser with thick glasses, she has gotten contacts and smartened up her look. In 1986, when running for Congress, she came off like a frolicking puppy, literally jogging door to door. (She was stomped by Helen Delich Bentley, a salty former journalist who dismissed as "crap" claims that the carpetbagging Townsend wasn't simply running on her family name.) In the spirit of her grandmother Rose, a perfectionist who used to return Townsend's childhood letters with red-penned grammatical corrections, Townsend has worked with speech coaches (she denies this when I ask her about it, until I indicate her staffers have already let the cat out of the bag).
Consequently, she is a maddeningly erratic performer. One day, she'll be flawless on Larry King or at the National Press Club. The next, she'll muck up the announcement of her running mate, retired Adm. Charles Larson--a party-switching Republican and former superintendent of the Naval Academy--by calling him "Lawson."
For Townsend's critics, recounting such gaffes has proven hard to resist. But Republicans are leery of drawing attention to them because of "the George W. and Lazio problems": Making hay over a Democrat's verbal mishaps while George W. Bush is president might be a doubtful "strategery." Rick Lazio, meanwhile, proved it is unwise to hit a woman. When he started beating up Hillary Clinton, a much less sympathetic figure than Townsend, in their Senate race, his numbers went south.
For the moment, the Ehrlich camp is left with a platform light on specifics (they say those are coming), and what Democratic state delegate Mike Busch, an Ehrlich friend and Townsend supporter, calls Ehrlich's "I'm not KKT" theme. ("If you don't want to see another 'President Kennedy'," Ehrlich's fund-raising letter warns, "I need your immediate support.") Indeed, the Ehrlich camp is rejoicing after Townsend's first ad, which they call the "Kathleen Created Maryland and On The Seventh Day She Rested" spot.
As Ehrlich's let-it-fly spokesman Paul Shurick says, "I was afraid she was going to run around saying, 'I had nothing to do with this administration.' Now that she's taking credit for being in the wheel room, we're going to start attacking her on Maryland's problems. If she created Maryland, she created all of it, not just the good stuff."
Team Ehrlich has already begun tethering Townsend to her boss's excesses, such as the $900-million budget shortfall Maryland now faces, partly as a result of Glendening's profligate spending. For most Democrats, Townsend cannot run away fast enough. "I don't think Glendening wants to align himself with Glendening," says one. It would be hard to overstate just how unpopular the governor is. A technocrat without a personal touch, he is so boring that while other politicians had sandwiches named after them at an Annapolis deli, Glendening requested that his name be given to a Healthy Choice baked potato. Perceived as a classic big-spending liberal ("Parris Spendening" is a nickname), he's prone to flip-flops, and has ended his otherwise colorless tenure by ditching his wife of 25 years, then marrying one of his key aides. In a survey a few years ago measuring gubernatorial popularity, Glendening finished last, right behind Arizona's Fife Symington, who at the time was facing a 23-count indictment.
Here, however, Townsend (or her aides) has displayed considerable political skill. For eight years, she has remained a loyal foot soldier, while preserving her neoliberal poster girl status and absorbing almost none of the governor's negatives. In the 1998 campaign, it was Townsend who, in many ways, saved Glendening's bacon. Because she is so likable, she was front and center, even in his biographical ads. Her family's out-of-state fund-raising network ensured money flowed like water. (One local Dem says Townsend is a fund-raising "piranha"--she reportedly hit Clinton pal Nate Landow up for cash on the way to Al Gore Sr.'s funeral.)
Most important, when their campaign was floundering, it was Townsend who brought in longtime Kennedy hit man Robert Shrum. Three weeks before Election Day, Shrum cut ads portraying their Republican competitor Ellen Sauerbrey as a racist for voting against a "civil rights bill" that not only wasn't a civil rights bill but had even been voted against by the black House speaker. No matter, African Americans turned out in droves and voted for Glendening-Townsend by a 9-to-1 margin, deciding the election.
IN HER OCCASIONAL ARTICLES for the Washington Monthly, the first of them years before she entered public life, Townsend has displayed bold, contrarian impulses, thumping the left for being anti-religious, as well as for secularizing lefty icons like her father when it was precisely his religious faith that lent him his moral vision. As Monthly founder Charlie Peters, a Townsend fan and mentor, says, "She is smart like Jack, and has Bobby's passion. Liberals typically pissed all over religion. She [took them on], and at a time when it was still very unfashionable to do so." (To those who assume all this was the work of Kennedy family wordsmiths, I'd say show me a Kennedy speechwriter who defends the Religious Right.)
But in her political life, she has displayed very little of the same moral courage. For her loyalty to Glendening, she has been thrown an endless bounty of feel-good puppy treats. She offers something not to offend everybody, taking bold stands against auto theft, drunk driving, teenage heroin use, and "domestic violence in the workplace." Likewise, Townsend is for child-safety seats, improving our state sewage systems, and having students read lots of books.
Occasionally, she takes an apparently principled stand. She has emphatically nixed Ehrlich's "slots for tots" proposal, for instance, an effort to boost Maryland's ailing horse racing industry by installing slot machines at the track, then using part of the proceeds to fund education. Townsend says this will increase crime and moral degeneracy, which is fine, but not logically consistent with Maryland's state lottery and endorsement of everything from Keno to video poker.
When Townsend has already staked out a position on a serious issue, she's displayed a knack for convenient election-year fence-sitting. Unlike most of her family, she has long supported the death penalty. But she recently encouraged Glendening to call for a moratorium until a University of Maryland study could be completed to see whether executions were racially skewed. The result: a delayed execution of a black purse-snatcher who shot a woman in the head in front of her two grandchildren, and whose guilt has never been questioned.
To be sure, Glendening has granted more responsibility to Townsend than is entrusted to the average lieutenant governor. Paying constant tribute to St. Luke's admonition that from him to whom much is given, much is required, Townsend has been a fanatical booster of voluntarism and service to one's country (at one point in the '80s, she came out for reinstating a peace-time draft, which she said should include women). She has been a driving force behind mandating character education and community service for public high schoolers. Though the latter is often derided as "compulsory volunteerism," and the former as exercises like drawing pictures of Smokey the Bear, most people find her rhetoric agreeable, and at the very least, it won't hurt her.
But in good neoliberal fashion, her flagship issue and campaign-r sum -enhancer has been crime. Here, she has met with qualified successes and spectacular failures. Her Police Corps program, the brainchild of RFK speechwriter Adam Walinsky, is modeled after Uncle Jack's Peace Corps. It attempts to draw college graduates into police work in exchange for college tuition. The program has received generally positive reviews, even if participation has been anemic.
Townsend also boasts of her HotSpots program, which she claims has reduced crime in dangerous areas by allocating more police and community resources to pockets where crimes occur disproportionately. Others aren't convinced. Last year, Baltimore's lauded police chief Edward Norris, under whom homicides have dropped below 300 a year (in a city with 60,000 drug addicts), derided HotSpots as a "failed policy" that distracted police from surgically addressing crime as they saw fit.
Baltimore's Democratic mayor, Martin O'Malley, who's criticized Townsend for her "vacuum of leadership," also derided HotSpots as being "more effective as a jobs program" than a crime-fighting measure. O'Malley, a young, good-looking political comer who displays RFK-style feistiness when it comes to picking fights with his own party, was Townsend's last serious Democratic rival. But like other state Dems who couldn't match Townsend's 3-to-1 fund-raising advantage or 98 percent name ID, the mayor elected not to run. (A good thing, too, says Ehrlich spokesman Shurick: "O'Malley is a political stud. He could out-Kennedy a Kennedy. I think we would lose badly to him.")
If there has been one unmitigated disaster on Townsend's watch, it is her stewardship of the state's juvenile justice system, her chief responsibility. Since 1997, Townsend has championed military-style boot camps to deal with young offenders. Late in 1999, the Baltimore Sun, after a year-long investigation, began relentlessly detailing abuses prevalent throughout the system. The camps teemed with anecdotes of wardens beating teenage inmates, of rampant drug use among graduates (one teenager was photographed with a needle in his arm), and of skyrocketing recidivism.
Townsend was first notified of all this in August 1999, at which time she told the head of the juvenile justice agency (a Glendening appointee) to make sure any violence stopped. But abuses kept occurring right up to the time the Sun's series was published in December. Townsend said she was sickened by the reports, even as she failed to disclose the conversations she had had on the subject with the governor, citing their "zone of privacy." Meanwhile, with several investigations underway, the boot camps continued to suffer so many problems that they had to be shut down. As the Sun documented, however, the juvenile justice system remained an underfunded morass of incompetent bureaucrats and corrupt administrators overseeing decrepit facilities rife with violence, staff-sanctioned fight clubs, and inmate suicides.
While there have been some cosmetic improvements, and Townsend has said, "I take responsibility," her numerous critics would like to know how exactly she's done so. "She did nothing noble here," says one source intimately involved in the story. "She really did not handle it. It was taken over by Glendening right away. It was his flack and their office who took over damage control. Where she really fell down in the first place was that she never followed up, she didn't make the phone calls."
Nobody thinks that juvenile justice is going to be a make-or-break issue in the campaign. Still, Townsend's performance has given fodder to her critics, many of them Republicans in the General Assembly who say she's been largely AWOL during legislative sessions throughout her tenure. For good reason, they say: She has no real grasp of the issues. Delegate Jim Ports says that the Democratic leadership bends over so far backwards to protect her that on one of the rare occasions when she came before his ways and means committee, the Democratic chair said, "She's going to come and testify, but she doesn't have time to answer any questions."
"We all know that's a front," says Ports. "That's saying she's too inept to answer questions." After failing to get his questions acknowledged by the chair, Ports grew so frustrated, he said, that he actually followed Townsend out into the hall. "I walked out the door, and she stood there with people ooh-ing and ah-ing over her for 25 minutes," he said. "But she didn't have time to testify."
One would expect Ports to make such noises (Townsend spokespeople have called this a "made-up story"). He is, after all, minority whip in a legislative body where Republicans are often regarded as leprous stepchildren. But even some Democrats, out of sync with a leadership that champions Townsend at every turn, make similar complaints. "She's a lightweight, but she's the best they've got," says one. "There's not one honest Democrat that would tell you that she's got any gray matter upstairs in terms of leadership. It's a joke. Everybody knows it's a joke. But what they say is, 'She's got money. She's a Kennedy. And she can win.' I feel bad, because she's a nice person. But she hasn't given me any reason to think she should be governor."
WHATEVER HER FAULTS, this critic grossly understates one point. Townsend is not just a nice person. She is perhaps the nicest person I've ever encountered in her line of work. She radiates warmth and humanity. Tagging along on a recent Ocean City campaign swing, I watch her address every girl, even the homely ones unattended by parents of voting age, as "pretty." When she finishes doing a television stand-up on the boardwalk, she doesn't just make off-air chat with the newsbabe, she also wanders over to shake the cameraman's free hand.
She is a devastatingly effective one-on-one campaigner, raising her hand like a cigar-store Indian, clamping it on the shoulder of whoever's in front of her, then listening to them and peppering them with personal questions long after most politicians would have moved on to the next prop. She has a daffy sense of humor, a not-quite-with-it-ness that makes you wonder if she is joking about her family's battle with the "Irish flu" when she walks into an Irish bar, is offered a beer from a patron, and says, "Oh, I feel right at home."
Throughout the day, there are small gaffes. At a volunteer firemen's convention, she refers to the tragic events of Nine-Eleven as those of "Seven-Eleven," before correcting herself. There are also moments of quiet grace. When extending sympathy to those who've lost family members in the line of duty, she says, "It is not true that good always comes from tragedy. And it is certainly not true that time heals all wounds. I know this from personal experience."
Though I'd been warned repeatedly that Townsend avoids protracted sit-downs with reporters, she readily agrees to have dinner with me and one of her aides. When I express surprise, she says, "Well, I'm hungry." Over the course of half an hour, we talk about the race. Lately she has looked more vulnerable than ever, angering black Democrats who are sore that Ehrlich picked a black running mate while she didn't. Likewise, her once formidable lead in the polls has dwindled to three points.
I tell her that Ehrlich's camp fully expects, in a close race, that she and Bob Shrum will trump up some charge that he's a racist, a la Sauerbrey in '98. Though she's called "The Nun," Townsend proves she's not above a political knife-fight. "He must have something to worry about," she says. "I'll just say there's plenty in his record for anyone to explore."
From there, our talk meanders to me (she asks as many questions as she answers), to Kennedy scandals (of her cousin Michael Skakel's recent murder conviction, all she offers is, "It was very sad for everybody"), to books. She reads quite a bit, and did not like her latest political biography. She won't allow me to print the title or author. It wouldn't be nice. But the reason she disliked it, she says, is it's too sterile, too clean. "There is ambiguity in all great people," she says. "It makes for a more interesting biography. It shows a struggle. It makes you understand what life entails."
Inevitably, we talk about her father, and the note he sent her after her uncle's assassination: "Dear Kathleen, You seem to understand that Jack died and was buried today. As the oldest of the Kennedy grandchildren, you have a particular responsibility now. . . . Be kind to others and work for your country. Love, Daddy."
Like most of the latest generation of political Kennedys, Townsend takes her best lines not from her own speechwriters, but from her father's. "There are a lot of things he said that I carry in my heart," she says. "We would take walks and he would quote Shakespeare or Aeschylus. He was a very serious person about who we were--what we needed to do with our lives."
Blair Lee IV, a longtime political commentator who himself hails from several generations of Maryland politicians, has also had a couple of extended chats with Townsend. Once, while they were seated at his regular lunch spot, a cook came to their table, saying that back in the kitchen a debate was raging about whether she was Bobby or Ted's daughter. "She said, 'Let me straighten that out,'" Blair recalls. "She went back to the kitchen, and shook hands with everybody there. I've had lunches with hundreds of politicians there over the years. Never had anybody worked the kitchen. There is something clearly driving her, the pressure, the memories of her father."
Unlike the rest of the politicians in her family, who tend to hit their "Quotable Kennedys" file every time a bill heads into mark-up, Townsend takes her legacy from her father seriously. Lee says this struck him when they talked about "the Bobby thing."
"I'm pretty hardboiled. But I don't think she's faking it," he says. "The rest of them are faking it. She's not. But that also raises questions about how close to the surface those nerve endings are. She's the last potential Bobby Kennedy-nominee for higher office. She's carried one helluva burden. It looks awfully heavy. But at some point, there's got to be something else. If that's why you're running for governor, you might want to reinspect. Every campaign is a crucible. You get boiled down to what you are or are not. She's never really had a job on her own. She's going to be out there naked. And for the first time in her life, she's going to have to earn it."
If she were truly carrying on the legacy, she would be a tub of squid guts like her uncle Ted and would pride herself on climbing a barstool in the Bronx.
If there is any family in this country least deserving of the title of American royalty, it is this swarm of Back Bay buccaneers.
Except, of course, where abortion is concerned, and there she has no problem at all supporting everything and anything up to infanticide. I cannot imagine how people like this can be called "devout," let alone "Catholic."
In other words, the liberals think it is utterly shameful and despicable that George W. Bush "used his ties" to his dear old dad, George H. W. Bush, to help obtain first the Texas governship, then the presidency. How dare that opportunist George W. do that, they thought! Meanwhile, the leftist media trolls fill the liberal papers and airwaves with unending sweet stories about the 50 or 100 or 1000 kennedy family knock-offs over the years who have capitalized on the family name with no shame either. Media bias is what it is, and I abhor it.
Another thing that pisses me off grandly is when the leftist media says that "W" was born with a silver spoon. Big friggin' deal, I say! I do not think algore lived in the bowery himself ( and algore had some help from his dad's political position and ties ). Anyway, better to have money before obtaining office, then to become millionaires while on the public dole like the clintoons so shamelessly did. Imagine that, the deceitful duo never owned a home in their own name before, and then boom! they now have what is it, 3 mansions? In so short a time after leaving the White House? Yeah, but they cared about the "little people," the dumb libs still say.
Informative in a way surely not intended ... I was nearly ushered through menopause and beyond due to its length and misinformation ...
Selecting ... out of the veritable morass of shaded and silly comments made in this article, those relating to the Juvenile Justice System caught my eye ... since the reparations paid to the youthful offenders who were beaten nearly to death by untrained and idiotic prison guards ... cost this state nearly 600 MILLION dollars ... before anyone flames me ... I've no problem with a little behind-the-scenes discipline in prisons ... which is why I will never run for office ... but I do have a problem with a simplistic, out-of-touch elitist ... who, when confronted with a problem relating to the only duty handed her in the last eight years ... refused full disclosure and quoted her much quoted and dead dad and then signed off on the reparations.
The simple facts are these:
She has no record
She has never voted for or against a single bill or bit of legislation...
She refuses to debate ... though she says she will "after the General Elections" ... which says it all...
Her poll numbers are tanking ... which means I will soon be assaulted with TV promos by babs-my-whole-body-is-an-avalanche-of-design-flaws ... as is my political acumen...
Ehrlich was endorsed by the Maryland State Troopers ... 72%-27% ... this is HISTORIC in this state, for they ALWAYS go demo .... the Troopers work for little kathy ... obviously they have not been swayed by the glamour of the she DIDN'T get out of the cock-a-doody CAR, clan
Sorry I yelled ... she is just such a very genuine twit ... with big bucks ....
Remember this the next time a RAT makes fun of Bush for mangling a single word.
It's unclear to me, at this point, ariseides ....I know they are thoroughly disgusted with what has been happening in this state lately ... and particularly in Baltimore City. This past week a perp, who was arrested and formally charged with the shooting of a 10 year old little boy who was sitting on his stoop in the evening ... the bullet entered this little kid's neck and exited his mouth ... taking out most of his teeth ... this, on the same night 5 other shootings transpired ... made bail ... because glendening's State's Atty.... the ever political Patricia Jessamy ... didn't send a single prosecutor to the hearing.
When asked about this obvious failure in the entire judicial system, little kathy said, "I don't think this is the time for me to tell you what I think about this ..."
This is far from the first time she has done this ... in fact, she never answers any questions ...
I think this was the last straw for the Troopers ... Ehrlich is showing a tremendous draw from counties normally demo ... he's getting cross-over votes ... though I will now tell you I was not happy with his vote on immigration ... but we are fighting for our very political lives, here is MD ....
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