The Endorsement That Wasn't


September 18, 1994|By KEVIN THOMAS

Delroy Cornick, the retired college professor running for a seat on the Howard County school board, is either the best candidate to represent the African-American community or one of the worst.

I thought I already knew the answer to that question. But prior to Tuesday's primary, in which Mr. Cornick received enough votes to continue on to the general election, a group calling itself the African American Coalition of Howard County decided at first not to endorse Mr. Cornick's candidacy, only to switch several days later and throw its support behind him.

The coalition ran advertisements in local newspapers announcing its endorsements (no mention of Mr. Cornick), then later stated for an article in The Sun that it was, in fact, recommending Mr. Cornick.

In neither case was there any explanation for the group not endorsing the lone black candidate for the school board, nor for switching and supporting Mr. Cornick later.

For the record, I think Mr. Cornick is a highly qualified candidate whose sound intellect and positions on key issues make him well suited for the board.

The fact that he is black is an added plus, since I firmly believe that African-American representation is needed on a board that shepherds a school system with a substantial minority population.

The Rev. Robert A. F. Turner, chairman of the coalition, has said that the group was shortsighted in not supporting Mr. Cornick from the beginning.

Instead, it made its endorsements of former school board member Karen B. Campbell and Jamie M. Kendrick, a former student member of the board, on the basis of their answers to a questionnaire. (The Sun distributes similar questionnaires to candidates, but also researches them in various ways, including interviews).

Because the deadline for having its advertisement placed in local papers was the next day, the group did not have the time to fully discuss its decision, Rev. Turner said. When the group met again several days later, some members voiced concern about not supporting Mr. Cornick, so the endorsement was changed.

Rev. Turner declined to give the specifics for the switch, except to say that there were "perceptions or actual instances" where some coalition members felt that Ms. Campbell and Mr. Kendrick could not adequately represent the minority community or the school community as a whole. Mr. Cornick, they decided, could.

Not that I want to blithely criticize the Rev. Turner or the coalition, but they made several mistakes, two of which the group has conceded to.

One, Rev. Turner acknowledges, was to have rushed the endorsements to meet the deadline to submit ads to local papers.

The other was in not informing Mr. Kendrick or Mrs. Campbell that a mistake was made, which meant that they both read about it in the newspaper.

Ironically, Mr. Kendrick had already gone so far as to purchase several ads of his own touting the coalition's endorsement of him.

"I'm just frustrated," Mr. Kendrick said last week. "I'm disappointed they didn't have the courtesy to make a phone call."

To worsen matters, the coalition is compounding this insult by suggesting that the endorsements were withdrawn because new information came to light about alleged "perceptions or actual incidents."

Such a McCarthy-like statement, wholly unsubstantiated, is unworthy of a group that claims civil rights organizations as its members.

Yet the coalition's third mistake in its endorsement process is even more critical.

There is nothing wrong with a coalition of 30 organizations, including churches, social service agencies and others, coming together to voice opinions on the people who are seeking to represent them and the larger community. And there is nothing wrong with that coalition picking candidates it wants to support, even if all of those candidates are black.

But the coalition tried to claim that its goal was not simply to endorse black candidates and, in fact, several non-minorities running in races other than school board did get the group's nod.

Originally, the group's members were even touting the fact that they had not endorsed Mr. Cornick as evidence that they were color blind in making their selections.

Of course, their switch proved otherwise, and the lack of explanation about why the change was made only underscored the fact that the coalition was making the decision based on race.

To suggest that something else -- a simple glitch in the process? -- was afoot is a little disingenuous. And it has damaged any credibility this fledgling group sought. That's not to say the coalition can't make amends and do better the next time around.

But in the future the members should be more honest about who they are and what they are doing so that people weighing their advice can decide whether its worth considering in the first place.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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