Black officials still face a double standard

December 07, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

Suddenly, the reputations of the top three black elected officials in the city may be under a cloud. Last week, this paper ran news stories raising potentially serious allegations of impropriety against State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms and Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was linked by implication to one of the allegations.

For some time, Mr. Schmoke, Mr. Simms and Mrs. McLean have been described as rising political stars, as members of the new generation of black leaders here.

But where will they stand in the political heavens when these allegations are sorted out?

According to one news article, Mr. Simms allegedly interfered with a planned narcotics raid at the home of a prominent black attorney in 1987. At the time, Mr. Schmoke was Baltimore state's attorney and Mr. Simms was his deputy. Mr. Simms found insufficient probable cause to search the home of attorney Georgia H. Goslee, described in the story as a Schmoke political ally. Police believed a friend of the attorney was dealing drugs from her apartment without her knowledge.

Another article said Mrs. McLean allegedly concealed her interest in a downtown office building when a multi-million dollar lease of the building came before the city's Board of Estimates not long ago.

The Maryland special prosecutor reportedly is investigating both cases. Meanwhile, blacks in this city find ourselves faced with a dilemma that blacks in many other communities have had to confront.

On one hand, we know that black elected officials should be held accountable for their actions, just like anyone else. Fools, scoundrels and incompetents should be rousted out of office as fast as possible. At the same time, the black community is acutely aware of the reality that their leaders have not been treated like everyone else in the past.

A number of studies suggest that black elected officials continue to be subjected to a double standard. For instance, a study commissioned in 1977 by the National Association of Human Rights Workers found a pattern of harassment of black officials at all levels of government.

A follow-up report 10 years later by Voter Education and Registration Action, Inc. found that black officials were the focus of 14 percent of some 500 public-corruption probes launched in the early 1980s, though blacks represented just 3 percent of persons in office.

Researchers also found that the allegations against the black officials were far more likely to be dismissed after investigation. However, fending off even unfounded charges often is enough to disable potentially strong leaders.

Yesterday, Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Simms told me the allegations against them are too spurious to affect their reputations.

Mrs. McLean could not be reached for comment, but she also has denied any wrongdoing.

"I do not consider myself under a cloud," Mr. Simms said angrily. "What I am is a victim of bad reporting. People who know me as an individual, who are familiar with my 15 years of public service and my reputation for honesty, know the allegations in the Sun story were simply mean-spirited."

Said Mr. Schmoke: "Although I don't feel the newspaper is engaged in harassment of me because I am African American, I was disturbed by the lengths the newspaper made to connect me to Ms. Goslee. It seemed like a deliberate distortion of the facts."

Though I believe their political careers could be hurt, the allegations involving Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Simms appear to be more smoke than substance. They grow out of an earlier grand jury report citing several instances of political interference with drug investigations. Most of those allegations have been dismissed after follow-up investigations by state and federal prosecutors.

Both men now have been bruised politically. And the charges against Mrs. McLean are specific enough to possibly end her political career.

A cloud over our top three black officials is no small matter. We better make sure we treat them fairly, which the system hasn't always done in the past.

To compensate, I propose a new double standard: that allegations be doubly scrutinized; that the process of investigation be twice as careful.

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