BALTIMORE – Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Democratic candidate for governor, told a crowd of 1,500 here that she endorses and will push for an $11 an hour living wage for state employees, if elected.

She made the promise in an appearance before the church-based coalition, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, which does not endorse candidates but does spearhead a grassroots “get-out-the-vote” effort. Her Republican opponent, Rep. Robert Ehrlich, had promised to attend but did not.

“Actions peak louder than words,” said Rev. Marshall Prentice. “He’s a no-show. This is downright disrespectful.”

Townsend had been described as a “lackluster” candidate until a televised debate with Ehrlich at historically Black Morgan State University, two weeks ago. She came out swinging, blasting Ehrlich for voting six times against increases in the minimum wage, against a patient’s bill of rights and prescription drugs under Medicare. She also assailed him for voting for a federal Right to Work (for less) unionbusting measure.

Ehrlich tried to regain the offensive by bragging that he and his running mate have “campaigned outside our comfort zone” in African-American neighborhoods. Townsend snapped back, “Why are you uncomfortable? This is not Star Trek. They are part of our community.” She gave a ringing endorsement of affirmative action while condemning Ehrlich as an enemy of race-based measures to overcome discrimination in jobs and education.

Ehrlich, with big contributions from the National Rifle Association, has voted to repeal the federal ban on assault weapons. Townsend, whose father, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated while running for president, has hammered Ehrlich as a stooge of the NRA.

An ad hoc group called Baltimore People’s Agenda is distributing a leaflet headlined, “Stop Ehrlich,” which punctures his moderate pose and exposes him as a “faithful yes man” of George W. Bush. Most recently Ehrlich voted for Bush’s resolution for war on Iraq. Both of Maryland’s senators and three of the state’s representatives voted against the war resolution.