updated 7/3/2006 9:24:28 AM ET 2006-07-03T13:24:28

Kristen Cox says it is an encouraging sign of how much public perceptions have changed that she and David Paterson, both legally blind, are running for lieutenant governor in Maryland and New York this year.

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"I don't think a few decades ago this would even have been entertained in a serious way," Cox said Friday, one day after Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich announced she would be his running mate.

Paterson, the Democratic minority leader in the New York Senate, is the choice of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer and has the support of the state's top Democrats. In New York, unlike Maryland, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately.

‘This can only be positive’
Advocates for people with disabilities are encouraged that two blind people are leading candidates for lieutenant governor in the same year.

"This can only be positive," said Mark Richert, director of public policy for the American Foundation for the Blind.

"Clearly, just like anybody else who represents an ethnic minority, if we succeed people will say 'That's great. That's an example of blind people being able to do anything,'" Richert said.

Cox recognizes light and dark but must read Braille or use a computer that converts print into spoken words. She uses a cane to guide her around obstacles.

Paterson can see shapes and is able to read at close distances for short periods. He doesn't use a cane but has someone walk with him to help him navigate and to introduce him to people.

Ehrlich's choice of Cox impressed Elaine Sveen, president of the Maryland School for the Blind, who is not blind but raised a blind child.

"This really highlights the goals we have as educators, goals of independence and to be successfully employed and successful in life," she said.

"It creates interest and thus opens the doors of opportunity for all blind individuals," Sveen said. "She's quite a role model for others."

Cox said she would be honored to be seen as a role model.

"I am who I am today because of people who were role models for me, who mentored me and believed in me," she said. "I think, quite frankly, I have a responsibility from that perspective to help others."

Cox, 36, is married and has two boys, ages 10 and 1. She has worked on disability issues as a federal and state official and with the National Federation of the Blind.

Representatives of the federation didn't return calls seeking information on any other blind public officials or candidates.

Candidates' background
After his election as governor, Ehrlich brought in Cox to head the existing disabilities office and then appointed her as secretary in 2004 when the office became a cabinet-level department.

Paterson, married with two children, is a prominent Democratic black official in New York and has been credited with helping Democrats gain seats in the state Senate.

He lost most of his sight at age 3 months when an infection damaged his optic nerve, and he backs stem cell research as offering a promise of a cure for his condition. With a companion to guide him, he has run the New York City Marathon.

Paterson did not immediately respond to a request for an interview with The Associated Press that was made through his campaign staff.

Maryland Republicans say it was Cox's talent and drive that earned her a place on the ticket _ replacing Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who is running for the U.S. Senate _ not the fact that she is blind.

"Her intellect is stunning, but it's nothing compared to her drive and energy," Ehrlich said. "When Kris zeros in on a target, she never misses."

Cox said she knows her blindness will be an issue in the minds of voters.

"They are curious about it. They have questions about it, and that's fair," she said. "I hope ultimately in the election that blindness becomes a non-issue."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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