County honors King's birthday

Ehrlich and Steele suggest civil rights leader would have liked their ideas

Over 1,000 attend awards dinner

Glen Burnie

January 16, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Speaking at a memorial tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Maryland's Republican leaders pointed to policies of their administration that they suggested would have won the approval of the slain civil rights leader - including support of family values and their endorsement of faith-based initiatives.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele alternated speaking during a 14-minute address to more than 1,000 people attending Anne Arundel County's annual King awards dinner - held on what would have been the leader's 75th birthday.

"If Dr. King were here ... he would remind us that our differences are not as important as the things that unite us," Ehrlich told the diverse crowd at La Fontaine Bleu in Glen Burnie.

Organizers said it was the largest regional celebration of King's actual birthday, with the federal observance scheduled Monday. The county's first such gathering was held in 1989 in Annapolis.

Event founder Carl O. Snowden, an aide to County Executive Janet S. Owens, said it is intended to honor the civil rights hero by discussing his teachings and recognizing people who advance his attempts to achieve racial equality.

Several previously announced awards were distributed before Ehrlich and Steele entered to a drumroll.

Aside from King's birthday, yesterday marked the first anniversary of the inauguration of Ehrlich and Steele - who is the state's first black lieutenant governor and is part of the first Republican administration in nearly four decades in Maryland. When he took office, Steele said it was fitting that the inauguration fell on King's birthday.

Last night Steele and Ehrlich emphasized their attempts to improve the state's minority business program and Ehrlich's appointment last week of African-American Judge Clayton Greene Jr. to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest judicial body.

While Ehrlich stood on the main stage before the crowd last night, Steele stood at a podium to his left. They passed the oratory back and forth. First they recited King's beliefs, then turned to their beliefs.

On public welfare programs, they noted that King was critical of plans that deterred the poor from achieving because achievements would disqualify them from assistance.

On faith-based initiatives, Steele said King understood that "government was simply not capable of doing everything." Later, he added that he and Ehrlich want to "harness the resources of every faith and community."

Steele and Ehrlich said they also share King's belief in a strong family, and they asked everyone to share pride in the progress made in race relations since King's assassination in 1968.

"We still have differences," Ehrlich said, but none as deep "as those that define Dr. King's time on the public stage."

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