Black leaders form coalition to support candidates

September 11, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

More than 30 black leaders in Howard County have formed an independent coalition to endorse political candidates who support black interests, and to use their influence against elected officials who do not.

The African American Coalition For Howard County hopes to affect the outcome of many local and statewide races in Tuesday's primary election and to become a permanent, unifying fixture, organizers said.

"We'll identify ahead of time the candidates sensitive to various ethnic groups, but the African-American community in particular," said the Rev. Robert A. F. Turner, pastor of St. John Baptist Church in Columbia and coalition chairman. "Once they get in office, we'll hold them to their pledge and position.

"We're not looking for a confrontational scenario with candidates. We want to work with them," he said. "We want to make sure they understand the needs of the African-American community and help them form programs and policies in response to those needs."

Among the priorities cited by the coalition are a commitment to more housing for low- and moderate-income families in the county; rehabilitation programs for criminals, including youth workshops; and a police-citizen review board to oversee county police activity.

The coalition's agenda also includes county incentives for minor ity businesses, school multicultural and ethnic programs, universal health care, and jobs and economic parity.

"This is not just a black thing. This is as legitimate as a business or commercial action committee," said the Rev. Bowyer G. Freeman, the coalition's vice chairman and president of the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We're not just looking for black candidates, but those who reflect our views."

The 34-member organization includes leaders from the Black Student Achievement Program, Howard County Center of African Culture, Community Action Council, Office of Minority Affairs, Alliance for Responsive Leadership, black business groups and several church and social organizations.

Mr. Turner met with black leaders in June to discuss how they could become more "pro-active, than reactive" in the political process, he said. The group formed an agenda and pinpointed priorities for the entire county, not just the black community. The coalition was formed in late June.

Coalition goals include evaluation of candidates, development of voter registration campaign and fund raising for candidates it has endorsed.

On Aug. 9, questionnaires focusing on education, economics, crime, civil rights and health and welfare reform were sent to 79 candidates for county and state office.

"Right or wrong is relative," Mr. Turner said. "We're choosing candidates whose responses are in line or close to our position on the issues."

Of the candidates sent questionnaires, seven of 10 gubernatorial candidates responded; seven of 13 state Senate candidates; 16 of 34 House of Delegates candidates; two of three county executive candidates; 11 of 15 County Council candidates; and four of five school board candidates.

On Oct. 18 and 25, the organization will hold a public forum at First Baptist Church of Guilford, where candidates in the six races will be questioned by various community groups.

The coalition chose not to endorse candidates for sheriff, state's attorney or congressional offices in this year's election.

"We're pleasantly surprised with the level of response," Mr. Freeman said. "It gives some indication of the seriousness they take African-Americans. We make a difference out here, they know that."

According to the 1990 Census, 22,019 of the county's 187,000 residents, -- or 11.8 percent -- are black. The population is now estimated at 211,000. Of that figure, 104,090 are registered to vote in this week's primary elections. The general election is Nov. 8.

Candidates endorsed by the coalition in Tuesday's elections include Parris N. Glendening for governor, and state Senate hopefuls Nancy L. Murphy, District 12, Virginia Thomas, District 13, and James Mundy, District 14. For the House of Delegates, it backed Ethel B. Hill, District 12B, Frank S. Turner, District 13A, and Pearline Atkinson-Stewart, District 13A.

In Howard County, the coalition endorsed Charles I. Ecker for county executive. For County Council it supported C. Vernon Gray, District 2, Dennis Schrader, District 3, and Riaz H. Rana, District 4. It is backing Delroy Cornick for the Board of Education.

The endorsement "will help in the general election," said Mr. Ecker, who is the unopposed Republican in the primary. "I'm glad they're getting involved. The African-American vote is very, very important."

Mr. Freeman said Mr. Ecker showed substantial interest in aiding a boost in the number of minority businesses in the county. He cited the recent creation of a minority business resource center in east Columbia.

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