Md. NAACP backs white liberal for state treasurer But black delegate wins committee vote

January 19, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

The Maryland NAACP endorsed a white liberal for state treasurer over a conservative African-American some members believe is unfriendly to their causes, the group announced last night.

State Del. Pauline H. Menes, a Democrat from Prince George's County, has shown more courage and commitment to civil rights legislation than Del. Richard N. Dixon, said Hanley J. Norment, president of the state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dixon, a Carroll County Democrat, solidified his front-runner status for the post last night by capturing, in a 16-8 vote, the recommendation of a joint legislative selection committee. The General Assembly will vote today by secret ballot to fill the $100,000 a year job.

Mr. Norment said he was "saddened" that he could not endorse Mr. Dixon, who could become the state's first black treasurer.

"I wanted so much to be able to see an African-American person in that highest office, but in good conscience, the NAACP cannot advance persons just because of their color," he said. "Some of ** our members are very concerned about the possibility of our acquiescing to the elevation of another Clarence Thomas."

Supreme Court Justice Thomas, a conservative African-American, opposes affirmative action.

Mr. Dixon's supporters, including prominent black legislators, say he is no Clarence Thomas, just an elected official who represents a conservative, 98 percent white district. They say he is the best qualified candidate.

The treasurer manages and invests state money, administers bond sales, and represents lawmakers on the Board of Public Works, which awards billions of dollars in state contracts.

The NAACP raised concerns about Mr. Dixon's voting record.

He abstained on a major affirmative-action vote last year and is not a Black Caucus member.

As a local school board member in the 1970s, he opposed a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, saying children should be in school learning about the civil rights leader. In an interview with Mr. Dixon, Mr. Norment said, the delegate could not remember what actions he took to ensure that students learned about Dr. King.

Mr. Dixon could not be reached last night for comment.

By contrast, Mr. Norment said, Delegate Menes has supported civil rights throughout her 29 years in Annapolis.

"She has been courageous in supporting civil rights legislation even during the time Prince George's County was in transition [racially]," he said.

She backed fair housing legislation in the early 1970s and last year voted to increase the amount of state business designated for minority-owned firms, he noted.

Delegate Dixon has said his votes reflect the wishes of his constituents. As treasurer, he said, he would reflect the broader constituency of the state legislature.

His explanation did not satisfy Mr. Norment. "A legislator has the responsibility not only to follow what he or she perceives to be the position of the constituents, but also to help educate the constituents to vote one's conscience as well," the NAACP leader said.

A stockbroker and financial consultant, Mr. Dixon is an assistant vice president of Merrill Lynch. Delegate Menes was an economist many years ago before becoming a full-time legislator.

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