Kelley is catching some criticism for her lone abstention on Young Defenders say frustration, anger, love of Coppin State led to stance

January 22, 1998|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

In last week's vote to expel former state Sen. Larry Young, Sen. Delores G. Kelley stood alone as the only African-American senator to abstain. This week, that stance has brought her under fire.

Callers to a popular black radio talk show have been criticizing her for not voting against Young's expulsion. And some Coppin State College students are calling for a boycott of her class when the spring semester begins next week.

"I've got a feeling that when Senator Kelley reports for class next week no one will be there," one of the angry students, Zachary McDaniels, told a crowd of about 200 people who were at the Enon Baptist Church in support of Young earlier this week.

The criticism has been strong enough that it has prompted questions about her political standing during an election year in which she already has a Democratic primary opponent in Baltimore County school board member Robert Dashiell.

"We intend to make this an issue," said Julius Henson, a campaign adviser to Dashiell. "Forty-six out of 47 senators put themselves on the line. She didn't. We think it squarely speaks to her service and leadership."

One of many critical callers to a radio talk show on WOLB said that Kelley should have taken a position to protect herself. "To abstain in a vote as important as this is like Pontius Pilate washing [his] hands and walking away from it," the caller said.

For Kelley, a Democrat who represents part of Northwest Baltimore and an adjacent area of Baltimore County, the whole matter has been agonizing.

About 30 people, mostly voters from Young's 44th District, called her the day of the vote -- as WOLB station owner Cathy Hughes took to the air to urge African-American senators to vote against expulsion.

Kelley had her own anger and frustration: A Senate colleague, a fellow African-American, was being accused of, among other things, wrongfully receiving more than $34,000 from Coppin, the college where she has worked for more than two decades.

"I love that school," Kelley said of Coppin on the floor of the Senate before the votes were cast, "and a lot of members of the African-American community have invested their hopes, their dreams and attribute their education and their professional lives to the work done at that school. To see that whatever transpired, that $4,000 or $5,000 a month would be given to anybody if there are no deliverables, is painful to me."

State political leaders, black and white, have come to Kelley's defense, saying her critics are simply misinformed.

"I think [the critics] should listen to the words that she spoke and the anger that she expressed," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "I think she was embarrassed. I think she was embarrassed for the senator. I think she was embarrassed for the college."

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden added that Kelley's critics "should focus on the facts and [that] whatever agreement existed between [Coppin's] president and Senator Young would have funded 20 or more scholarships."

McFadden said that the black senators believe Kelley abstained "out of love and respect for Coppin. The black members of the state Senate are going to stand strongly behind her."

Kelley, 62, will face Coppin students next week when they return to school for the spring semester. The first-term senator, who has worked at Coppin for 25 years, will teach an interviewing class for communications students on Friday nights.

She said she believes that the students who know her will support her decision.

"The students and I have the same goal: We don't want Coppin State College hurt," Kelley said. "They must have been misled by somebody. My feeling is that most people of goodwill will appreciate what I have done."

Kelley said she had hoped that Young would resign as the African-American senators had asked him in a meeting before the vote. She had decided to vote for expulsion -- until pressure continued to mount on the black legislators to vote against it.

In the end, she decided not to cast a vote, even after staring at the voting board and seeing the eight other black senators vote against expulsion along with two white senators. In the end, the vote was 36-10-1.

"All of that was painful for me," she said. "I'm just trying to do my job."

Kelley has been a member of the General Assembly since 1990, when she was elected to the House of Delegates.

In 1994, she was elected to the state Senate, representing the 10th District, 80 percent in Baltimore County and 20 percent in Baltimore.

A former vice chairwoman of the Baltimore Urban League's board of directors and a past president of the Black-Jewish Forum of Baltimore, Kelley is part of the Institute for Christian-Jewish Studies and a board member of the minority-owned Harbor Bank of Maryland.

Despite the criticism of Kelley, Kenneth L. Webster, who has been a political adviser for several city and state campaigns, said her vote should have minimal negative impact on her political future because of her strong influence.

"When push comes to shove, there's going to be a groundswell of support for Senator Kelley," said Webster, who is an adviser to Joan Carter Conway, a Young supporter. "Robert Dashiell is a formidable opponent, but, I think, in the final analysis, Kelley will win."

Even some of Young's most vocal supporters don't appear too critical of Kelley, which is likely to be an important factor for her in regaining any support she may have lost.

"I'm very disappointed with her decision," said Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV. But he said the People For Truth and Justice, a group fighting for Young to regain his seat, is not sponsoring any of the efforts against Kelley.

Kelley said that the whole ordeal has been a tragedy for everyone and that she hopes that healing will come to all involved.

"I feel pain for the senator," she said, "but I feel a lot more pain for the black community."

Pub Date: 1/22/98

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