To pastor, O'Malley's timing is suspicious

This Just In ...

August 16, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

Martin O'Malley probably never expected to get the important endorsement of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. That went to Carl Stokes last week. But what O'Malley might not have appreciated is how his very candidacy appears to boil the blood of some of Baltimore's most influential clergy. A leading minister says Mayor O'Malley would be "the worst thing that could happen."

The Rev. Douglas I. Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church and president of the alliance, practically sees red when he considers O'Malley, who is the leading white candidate in the field.

Miles commands respect. He's a powerful orator, blessed with that big picture/common touch way of thinking about things. He puts together a great sermon -- strong, convincing, passionate.

And these days he's passionate about O'Malley's candidacy for mayor. He thinks it's terrible.

I didn't appreciate how deeply this cut with Miles until Tuesday.

After the alliance met at his church on Greenmount Avenue, Miles emerged from the meeting to report that the ministers had endorsed a mayoral candidate by an "almost totally unanimous" vote. But the official announcement, he said, wouldn't come for two days.

So . . . no news.

Until Miles took a shot at O'Malley. He made it absolutely clear that the fair-skinned city councilman and Celtic balladeer would not get the alliance's endorsement.

Why?

Because, Miles said, O'Malley had exhibited "insensitivity" at an Aug. 8 mayoral forum, sponsored by Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), when he used the phrase "you people" in reference to the mostly African-American audience.

O'Malley's words had provoked a roll of grumbles at the BUILD forum, but no one made much of the slip until Miles mentioned it on Greenmount Avenue two days later. (Certainly O'Malley's choice of words didn't bother the president of the NAACP, who attended a fund-raiser for Brother Martin the next night at Mick O'Shea's.)

Clearly, O'Malley had done something more sinister to earn Miles' ire.

But what, exactly?

Two days later, on the way to the alliance's news conference outside Metropolitan United Methodist Church, I sat on a bench in Lafayette Park and read Molly Rath's City Paper cover article on race in the mayor's election.

" 'I think,' " Rath quoted Miles, " 'this election before the O'Malley entry was being used as a vehicle to bring the races back together -- and the classes -- as all the major groups started focusing on the issues and providing candidate forums, where Baltimoreans could see they have more in common than differences.' "

Issues? Forums? I thought everyone had been focusing on Kweisi Mfume. The Kweisi Watch lasted until May 24, when he finally announced he would not be a candidate. Still, I read on.

"An O'Malley victory, [Miles] maintains, 'would be the worst thing that could happen in this city. . . . I think it would tear this city apart.' "

Tear this city apart?

The worst thing that could happen?

Sounded like a whole lot of hyperbole to me. I was surprised to hear Miles indulge in it. His comments to Rath made O'Malley sound like former Klan WizardDavid Duke.

As expected, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance endorsed Stokes. That happened Thursday. Members of the alliance -- certainly not the largest gathering of them ever seen -- made the announcement from the steps of Metropolitan United Methodist. The Rev. Melvin Tuggle, president of Clergy United in the Revitalization of East Baltimore (CURE) and a close friend of Stokes, was there. Miles did most of the talking. He took more shots at O'Malley: "We were weary of the politics of divide and conquer ... Carl Stokes has consistently worked with the faith community over the years and did not just this year discover that there is an Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance or CURE. ...."

Afterward, I asked Miles about his strong words about O'Malley in the City Paper.

The worst thing that could happen? Tear the city apart?

"It would signal a stunning setback in race relations," Miles said of an O'Malley victory.

Was he saying a white guy can't be mayor of Baltimore, given the racial makeup of the city? Would the election of a white mayor spark race riots?

No. That's not it, Miles said.

O'Malley is an "opportunist."

"Had he declared himself before three or four black candidates were already in the running, then he would have had some credibility," Miles said. "He has no credibility."

In his view, O'Malley got into the race only because he saw the possibility of getting just enough votes -- say, less than 30 percent -- to slip through a fractured field of black candidates. Such a victory would polarize the city racially and O'Malley would be unable to govern and lead.

Here's where I challenge the honorable reverend.

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