DNC's Dean says he won't apologize for remark at black caucus meeting

Appearing at Cummings fund-raiser, he assails GOP

February 25, 2005|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Pledging to "fight back" for being called a racist, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said yesterday that he would not apologize for a statement he made early this month that Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele called "racially insensitive."

Dean told a group of about 70 people who gathered at a morning fund-raiser for U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings that his comments were misrepresented by Republicans. Instead of making an apology, Dean criticized Republicans for what he sees as a failure to ensure that all people receive a good education, have food to eat and health care.

"I was called a racist in Maryland," said Dean, who was elected DNC chairman two weeks ago. "You don't apologize when people call you names. You fight back."

The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate spoke during a breakfast at the Marriott Baltimore Waterfront Hotel in support of Cummings' 2006 re-election bid.

Among those attending the event were Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., Howard County Executive James N. Robey and City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who is also second vice president of the Maryland Democratic Party, as well as Joseph A. De Francis, a major partner in the Pimlico and Laurel Park race tracks.

The fund-raiser signaled Cummings' continued press for Congress, although he has been considered a possible replacement for Kweisi Mfume as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Cummings said yesterday that he had not interviewed for the job.

Despite the celebratory nature of the event, Dean could not escape questions about his Feb. 11 comment to the DNC Black Caucus.

During that meeting, Dean said, "You think the Republican National Committee could get this many people of color in a single room?" Then he added: "Only if they had the hotel staff in here."

After hearing about the statement, Steele, one of the few African-American Republicans elected to office statewide, called the remarks insensitive.

Yesterday, Steele reiterated his concern about Dean's comments and repeated his call for an apology.

But Steele said he never called Dean a "racist."

"I don't think he's a racist," Steele said. "He was being flippant and cute and wound up saying something boneheaded. A good number of us think he was racially insensitive."

Cummings said at the breakfast yesterday that he is excited about the direction of the Democratic Party under Dean's leadership.

"He makes it clear that he values every single human being," Cummings said.

Dean said at the breakfast that he believes the Democratic Party cares more about the concerns of people of color than the Republican Party, but that Democrats have failed to show it. He said he wants to increase his party's visibility in all states, in particular by reaching out to minorities.

"We're going to have a 50-state strategy," Dean said. "You don't respect people, if you don't show up" and talk with them.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman pledged during a forum at Prince George's Community College this month that the GOP will work harder at reaching out to minorities. Mehlman plans to hold community forums throughout the country to speak with minorities.

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