5 hopefuls vow action on racism allegations

March 10, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

Candidates for governor -- four Democrats and one Republican -- took turns before a panel of black lawmakers last night and pledged to act to eliminate racism in state government if elected to Maryland's highest office.

In addition, the five gubernatorial aspirants sought to identify themselves with the concerns of Maryland's blacks by citing their track records on racial matters and the steps they envision to remedy historic inequities.

Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, state Sen. Mary H. Boergers, former Del. Frank A. Conaway, the only black candidate, and House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the sole GOP participant, engaged in a lively exchange that carried well beyond the scheduled two hours.

The apparent front-runners for each party's nomination declined to participate in the forum sponsored by the General Assembly's Black Caucus, citing scheduling conflicts.

"We feel snubbed," said Del. John D. Jefferies, the Baltimore Democrat who heads the caucus.

Mr. Jefferies made his comment a few hours before the forum upon learning that Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, who led the Democratic field in the last independent poll, had sent his regrets about 2 p.m.

In an interview before the forum, Mr. Jefferies extended his comment to include Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who leads the polls among GOP contenders, and retired foreign service officer William S. Shepard, the Republican's 1990 standard-bearer.

At Mr. Jefferies' direction, empty chairs bearing the names of the missing candidates were displayed at the event.

Dr. Louise Johnson, executive director of the caucus, said the candidates or their campaign committees were notified of the forum by phone about 10 days ago. Formal invitations were mailed March 1, she said.

Dennis C. Donaldson, the political director of Mr. Steinberg's campaign, said the lieutenant governor had a previously scheduled fund-raising meeting with some potential contributors from out of town.

"At this stage of the campaign, that [fund-raising] gets precedence over darn near everything," said Mr. Donaldson. He added that the campaign was now scheduling appearances by Mr. Steinberg a month in advance.

Mrs. Bentley was on Capitol Hill, where floor votes were scheduled at the same time as the forum, campaign spokesman Gordon Hensley said.

"We hope the chair will say, 'Helen Bentley, Busy on the Job,' " Mr. Hensley said.

Mr. Shepard said he was unable to attend the forum because of a "long-standing and important commitment" to address a regional meeting of the Maryland Classified Employees Association on the Eastern Shore.

He said he hoped to arrange a private meeting with Mr. Jefferies to discuss his candidacy.

Mr. Steinberg's closest rival in the polls, Mr. Glendening, had a fund-raiser scheduled in Ocean City last night but scrubbed it to attend the caucus event, said David Seldin, his campaign press secretary.

"This was something we felt was important to do," Mr. Seldin said.

About a dozen of the 31 members of the legislative Black Caucus attended the forum.

The forum followed by two weeks a six-hour hearing by the Black Caucus on allegations of racism in state government. That session set the stage for last night's forum, during which black lawmakers sought to get the candidates on record as promising efforts to remedy the complaints.

"It doesn't look like we're getting any action out of the present governor," Mr. Jefferies told the candidates, referring to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who is in his final year in office.

All of the candidates vowed to be sensitive to charges of unequal hiring and promotion and agreed, if elected, to be accessible to caucus members.

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