WASHINGTON – Former President Bill Clinton honored Kathleen Kennedy Townsend on Thursday for her commitment to community service, saying no other lieutenant governor in the nation has had "anything like the positive impact on the citizens of their state."
Clinton awarded Townsend the first Democratic Leadership Council Clinton Center Award during a ceremony in which he praised her for spearheading an effort to make Maryland the first state where community service is mandatory for public high school students.
"Kathleen always took it seriously and made it the law in Maryland, and it is a good thing, and no one else can say that," said Clinton, who added that as president he recommended that community service be a part of every public school's curriculum.
Townsend, who is expected to announce May 5 that she is running for governor, called the award an "extraordinary honor," saying community service was a value she learned growing up as the oldest of 11 children.
"There is a great joy in making a difference, in making a contribution," said Townsend, daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
In a speech that previewed some of the themes of her imminent campaign, Townsend emphasized the importance of government engaging the help of citizens in programs that make a difference on a local level. She promoted some of the programs initiated in Maryland under Gov. Parris Glendening, with whom she has served the past seven years. She spoke largely about student service, but also mentioned HotSpots and Police Corps, which encourage police sensitivity to and cooperation with communities.
"We have actually made democracy work in each of these neighborhoods," she said.
Although Clinton did not mention the gubernatorial campaign, Townsend said later she'd welcome his help on the campaign trail.
Democrats see Clinton as a positive factor in mobilizing the party base in a campaign, particularly in his appeal to black voters -- who could be decisive in Maryland's race. Clinton, however, can be a divisive figure among more moderate Democrats.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich is running for governor in Maryland on the Republican ticket. The only other announced candidate is Republican Ross Pierpont, 84, a frequent campaigner.
Maryland's primary election is Sept. 10, and the general election is Nov. 5.