Hill Station, Leasure get group's endorsement African-American Republican Club backs 2 circuit judges

September 17, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The Howard County African-American Republican Club yesterday has widened the party's so-called big tent enough to endorse Circuit Judges Donna Hill Staton and Diane O. Leasure -- winners of the Democratic primary and Gov. Parris N. Glendening's appointees.

The women's qualifications -- along with the gender and racial diversity they bring as the county's first female circuit judge and first black judge -- swayed the 15-member group to endorse them, club president Delroy L. Cornick Sr. said.

A statement released by the campaign of challengers District Judge Lenore R. Gelfman and attorney Jonathan Scott Smith said the two are "disappointed that the decision of the African-American Republican Club was reached without even inviting them to appear before the organization."

The club -- which announced the endorsement outside of the county's Bob Dole-Jack Kemp presidential campaign headquarters in Columbia's Town Center -- did not invite any of the four candidates to address it, Cornick said.

Members "discussed the issues and arrived at a consensus," he said. "It is an important time for Howard County in that few African-Americans have been elected to county-wide offices in the entire history of the county."

Republican County Council member Dennis R. Schrader, who attended the endorsement announcement, said his support for the sitting judges -- whom Glendening appointed in a move designed to diversify Howard's highest court -- doesn't mean he's "siding with any one politician. Diversity within our leadership structure is what's right."

After the March primary, Schrader charged the challengers with using the Republican party to win a spot on the November ballot. The sitting judges qualified for the general election by prevailing in the Democratic primary, and the challengers won the Republican primary.

"This is a nonpartisan race," Schrader said. "We are choosing whom to support based on who is the best qualified."

Supporters of challengers Gelfman and Smith predicted the county's Republicans would line up behind the candidates regardless of the club's endorsement because of their discontent with Glendening.

"When the day is done, Republicans are going to vote overwhelmingly for Gelfman and Smith," said Howard state Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a District 14B Republican. "Their ticket came about as a reaction to Glendening's over-politicization of the judicial appointment process. Glendening put politics above the importance of quality."

The county's Republican Central Committee has declined to make an endorsement in the nonpartisan judicial race, while individual members and smaller groups -- such as the African-American Republican Club -- have taken sides.

In the primary, the Democratic Central Committee endorsed the sitting judges and are expected to do the same for the Nov. 5 general election.

"We welcome support from anyone," Hill Staton said. "We have always viewed ourselves as representing the entire community."

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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