Minority group aids Schrader Black business leaders back GOP candidate for Howard executive

'Get a piece of the pie'

Others criticize nominee for opposing interests of poor hTC

September 27, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Management consultant Walter E. Morgan is standing with real estate broker Harry M. Dunbar, waiting for breakfast and talking politics. Both are African-American Democrats from Columbia, both voted for Parris N. Glendening in 1994 and Dunbar is voting for him again this year.

But neither is supporting the Democratic candidate for Howard County executive, James N. Robey. Indeed, their political chat took place at a $250-a-person fund-raiser Thursday for Robey's Republican opponent, Councilman Dennis R. Schrader.

Morgan and Dunbar are members of a fledgling group of nearly 20 local black business leaders who are throwing their support behind Schrader for executive -- echoing races elsewhere in Maryland, Florida and Missouri, where disaffected black Democrats are endorsing Republican candidates.

"As I told Dennis, I've been screwed by Republicans, I've been screwed by Democrats," said Morgan, 57, who is helping to form the bipartisan Political Committee for Dennis Schrader, an arm of the embryonic Ad Hoc African American Business Forum.

"I always supported Democratic candidates because I knew what they stood for. I'm not that sure anymore, and I guess I think more of my franchise than to just give it away," Morgan added.

Morgan, Dunbar and others are backing Schrader largely because of economics. While some black activists accuse Schrader of being insensitive to the needs of the poor, these middle- and upper-class black business leaders see a candidate with whom they can do business.

'Selfish reason'

"I've had a difficult time getting business out of Howard County, so I'm looking for someone who is a little more sympathetic to business and especially minority business persons, and seeing if I can get a piece of the pie," said Gene Hubbard, whose Columbia information-technology company, Hub Consulting Group, has bid unsuccessfully for county contracts. "I guess that's a somewhat selfish reason why I personally am going over to Dennis."

The Schrader political committee is not merely a group of entrepreneurs seeking to improve business opportunities for blacks. Members Delroy Cornick and Boyd Rutherford are prominent local Republicans trying to galvanize minority support for Schrader. Others, such as Morgan, are disaffected Democrats who also are backing Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's gubernatorial bid.

Morgan acknowledges that some members probably are supporting Schrader because they consider him the front-runner the executive's race after his successful GOP primary against fellow Councilman Charles C. Feaga. Many have not spoken with Robey or tried to learn his views on minority business issues.

Robey says that he is proud of his record of promoting African-Americans when he was police chief and that he, too, wants to support minority business.

"I want to do everything I can to make sure [minority businesses] get their fair share," he said.

But the group came together out of a desire to open more doors for minority businesses. Members of the group say they are impressed with Schrader's outreach in his job overseeing construction at the University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore.

County officials say they have made efforts to increase opportunities for minority business owners, but Schrader promised the political committee in a meeting after the Sept. 15 primary that he will do more. Of roughly $69 million in contracts awarded by the county last year, an estimated $4 million -- or 5.8 percent -- went to firms run by minorities, women or the disabled, according to the county purchasing office.

"I think it needs to be worked on," Schrader said. "My intent is to make sure that there's fairness and opportunity for people in the community, and we've got to reach out to a diverse group of people."

Said Giles W. Haygood, president of Dun Rite Security Services and a Schrader supporter who attended the breakfast fund-raiser, at Savage Mill: "I believe that he will [do that]. It won't take a gargantuan effort. It only takes a sensitive effort to represent all of the people."

Even as a moderate Republican, Schrader is expected to have difficulty winning votes from minorities. Political experts say Democratic candidates usually capture close to 90 percent of the black vote in Howard County, as in the rest of the nation.

Endorsement not unanimous

The African American Business Forum's Political Committee for Dennis Schrader is expected to help Schrader by encouraging votes for him and raising money.

But not all black leaders share the group's enthusiasm for the candidate.

Sherman Howell, vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, says the business leaders are overlooking votes by Schrader that, he argues, worked against poor blacks.

"The community cannot allow [the black business leaders] to pick and choose issues and ignore vital issues to the black and low-income communities," said Howell, though he added that he is not concerned about the business leaders' influence.

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