Dean backing put on hold

The Political Game

Support: Rep. Elijah E. Cummings has delayed his endorsement amid city Jewish leaders' concerns about the presidential candidate.

December 09, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

HOWARD DEAN'S comments about Israel are delaying a much-anticipated endorsement from Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Baltimore Democrat and Congressional Black Caucus chairman.

When Cummings appeared with the former Vermont governor during a Baltimore fund-raiser for the presidential candidate last month, a formal endorsement seemed only days away.

For Dean, the backing from the CBC head would be a coup, coming soon after Dean endured negative publicity for a comment that the Democratic Party should aggressively pursue the votes of white, male Southerners with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks.

The remark was intended to illustrate that working- and middle-class voters of all races and geography are better served by Democratic representation than by Republicans, but backfired because of racial overtones and regional sensitivities.

Cummings' endorsement could help Dean among black voters. But that help has been delayed - primarily because of concerns from Jewish voters in his Baltimore-based district who have questions about Dean's commitment to Israel. In published reports, Dean has said he wants the United States to have a more "evenhanded" approach to Israel, a statement that has troubled many Jewish activists.

Cummings said last week that he has not officially backed Dean because he is trying to allay concerns from Baltimore's influential Jewish leaders.

Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, told Cummings of his problems with Dean during a recent encounter.

"I said, `There's a lot of questions in the Jewish community about Dean,'" Abramson said.

Asked if Dean deserves the backing of Jewish leaders, Baltimore developer David Cordish said: "He definitely does not, and you can quote me."

Cummings contacted the Dean campaign and got former Democratic National Committee Chairman Steve Grossman, a top aide to Dean, to call Abramson.

But the outreach hasn't worked yet, leaving Cummings in an uncomfortable position as he balances the prestige that his national position could bring the Dean campaign with the sentiments of important backers in his district.

Duncan sounds off on slots, tax increases

Continuing to stake out issue positions as he looks to prepare a campaign for governor in 2006, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan had some strong words about slots, taxes and the state's direction in his state-of-the-county speech last week.

Duncan said the tax increase he implemented this year was "prudent," because Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. refused to live up to his budget-balancing responsibilities. But Duncan said he wouldn't raise taxes again next year, because Montgomery County won't carry the burden of the state.

"As the economy continued to falter and we saw the new state administration begin to shirk from its responsibilities and shy away from its promises, we felt it was important to act prudently," Duncan said. "For the first time, we proposed raising taxes to make up for losses in revenues due to the sluggish economy and cuts in state aid. That will not happen again this year."

"This county - no county - can afford to carry the state on its back," Duncan said. "I will not propose any new tax increases next year. Instead, we will go to Annapolis and remind the state of its obligations - both legal and moral - and I hope that we will begin to see the state focus on long-term solutions."

Duncan also rejected slot machines - Ehrlich's top priority - saying that the county and state would prosper by investing in biotechnology and other new ventures.

"I want to live in a community that has a long-term strategy to attract the world's best and brightest and doesn't have to rely on people cashing in their Social Security checks at slot machine palaces," Duncan said, in a refrain that other top Democrats are sure to echo as they develop a message to use against Ehrlich.

Paul Schurick, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said he applauds Duncan's no-new-taxes pledge, which he called appropriate given the county taxes raised in the past year. "He obviously is out listening to many of the same people we are," he said.

Schaefer doesn't like being left out of the loop

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the former governor and mayor, doesn't like to be left out. Making a major announcement last week that he was granting amnesty to firms hiding revenues in Delaware holding companies, Schaefer griped that he was not included in a one-day trade mission to Michigan that included Ehrlich, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Asked what he thought about the trip to woo General Motors officials, Schaefer responded: "Touchy subject, because I felt left out.

"They didn't have to take me, but they could have at least said they were going."

Sun staff writer Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this article.

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