NAACP calls debate on black issues 'an insult'
                    Mfume says gubernatorial face-off idea is offensive

                    By Tim Craig
                           Sun Staff
                           Originally published September 18, 2002

                    The NAACP national president entered the fray yesterday over possible
                    debates between the two candidates for governor, criticizing Republican
                    Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for proposing a face-off about African-American

                    Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement
                    of Colored People, said he and other black leaders are insulted that Ehrlich
                    wanted to have such a debate this week at Coppin State College.

                    "The NAACP finds it offensive that anyone running for governor would
                    propose having a debate solely on black issues," said Mfume, adding that
                    he would picket such an event. "It's an insult. We don't act alike. We don't
                    look alike. We don't think alike. You don't see an attempt to put on a white
                    issues debate."

                    Paul Schurick, an Ehrlich spokesman, declined to respond to Mfume's

                    On Friday, Ehrlich proposed that he and Townsend meet at Coppin State
                    College to debate issues such as minority business tax credits, drug
                    treatment, training for ex-felons, teen pregnancy and funding for the state's
                    historically black universities.

                    "Marylanders deserve a lively debate about issues affecting
                    African-American communities," Ehrlich said in a letter to his opponent
                    Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

                    But Mfume said such a debate "sets social progress back" because it
                    assumes whites and black voters care about different issues.

                    For her part, Townsend has refused to respond to Ehrlich's request, saying
                    it is a public relations ploy.

                    Yesterday, Ehrlich - who is eager to debate Townsend - went to a
                    candidates forum in Gaithersburg. Townsend sent her running mate, retired
                    Adm. Charles R. Larson, to the event.

                    But campaign staffs for Townsend and Ehrlich are planning to meet this
                    week to work out the details for a possible debate being planned by the
                    state chapter of the NAACP.

                    Both candidates said yesterday that they plan to take part in the debate
                    scheduled Sept. 26 at Morgan State University, but NAACP officials said
                    yesterday that it may be postponed.

                    Townsend and Ehrlich agreed to attend the event several weeks ago, but
                    only yesterday they realized the other was also attending, spokesmen for
                    the candidates said yesterday.

                    G.I. Johnson, president of the NAACP Baltimore branch and debate
                    organizer, said the debate might be postponed as early as today so the
                    NAACP and both candidates have more time to work out the details.

                    Peter Hamm, a Townsend spokesman, said she initially thought the event
                    was a candidates' forum, during which candidates answer questions but do
                    not debate their opponents.

                    Two weeks ago, Townsend proposed that both candidates meet for two
                    televised matches, one of which the NAACP would sponsor. At the time,
                    Ehrlich said he was concerned that the NAACP was not impartial enough
                    to sponsor a debate, which prompted Mfume to ask Ehrlich for an apology.

                    Schurick said yesterday that Ehrlich will attend the debate, though the
                    campaign is concerned about the NAACP's neutrality. "At this point, we'll
                    go anywhere to engage the lieutenant governor," he said.

                    Mfume and Johnson said that the NAACP would be fair and that Ehrlich's
                    concern is one reason they are letting the campaigns decide the debate

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