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Ehrlich criticized for choice of golf club as fund-raiser site

Black leaders say Elkridge promotes racial exclusion

July 02, 2005|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

"I will say, quite candidly, I was aware of that before I joined the club," Motz said at a Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, referring to an investigation conducted by the Maryland state attorney general's office in the mid-1970s. "I cannot more strongly disapprove of any policy that involves discrimination."

In 1977, the Elkridge Club forfeited a state tax exemption rather than turn over its membership list to the state and thus pays higher property taxes, according to Robert A. Zarnoch, an assistant attorney general who has litigated country club discrimination issues.

Clubs must have inclusionary policies and disclose their membership if they wish to avoid having club land assessed based on its development value. But membership restrictions remain legal under Maryland's public accommodations law, which contains an exemption that permits private clubs to exclude women, Jews, blacks and other minority groups if its members so desire, Zarnoch said.

Club leaders refused to discuss the membership policy. Jay M. Wilson, a vice chairman of Mercantile Bankshares Corp. and the president of the club since May 2004, did not return repeated telephone messages left at his office and home. Other club officers also did not return calls.

Asked whether the club had black members, its general manager, Joseph Fulco, who is also the registered agent on incorporation papers, said: "I have no idea. ... I don't deal with membership." He referred questions to Wilson.

An online club history notes that bylaws contained a prohibition on women members from 1926 to 1995.

Isiah Leggett, former chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party and a candidate for Montgomery County executive, said the governor should apologize for his participation in the event.

"In today's age, to not have minorities is abominable. And to go there as the governor of Maryland is unacceptable," Leggett said. "He should at least issue a statement apologizing for going there and holding a fund-raiser."

Private country clubs remain places where business gets done, said Elbridge James, vice president and state political director of the Maryland NAACP. Holding an event at an all-white club gives the appearance of excluding a large segment of Maryland, he said.

"You're doing the state's business, and business enterprise, in a setting where no minority voices are heard," James said.

Leggett said he was not persuaded by the argument that club memberships are offered based on personal connections, and therefore don't extend to African-American circles.

"I've heard that excuse before," Leggett said. "If the policy leads to the wrong result, you need to change the policy."

Sun staff writers William Wan, Bill Atkinson and Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.

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