Duncan calls on Ehrlich to apologize

Montgomery executive raises Elkridge Club issue

July 13, 2005|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, an all-but-declared candidate for governor, called on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday to apologize for raising money for re-election at a country club that has never admitted a black member, saying Ehrlich is "trying to divide us."

Duncan, a Democrat, said he wrote a letter to Ehrlich "to urge you to publicly apologize for your poor judgment in holding a fund-raiser at the Elkridge Club, an exclusive club which has not had an African-American in its 127-year history."

"Your refusal to apologize for holding this event at a club that discriminates -- and your refusal to denounce the club's policies -- is completely unacceptable," Duncan wrote. "Your failure to apologize is a slap in the face to all fair-minded Marylanders."

A spokesman for the governor, Henry Fawell, said Ehrlich had no comment on Duncan's demand. Republican Party officials said Ehrlich has a laudable record in hiring and appointing black officials, and they accused Duncan of political posturing.

Duncan sent a related letter to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, his probable opponent in a Democratic primary. He asked the mayor to join him in denouncing Ehrlich and to pledge to refrain from holding events at private country clubs with membership policies that exclude women, blacks and others.

O'Malley's campaign manager said the mayor has not and will not sponsor events at such locations. The mayor did not return a call for comment yesterday.

Ehrlich, a Republican, raised $100,000 for his expected re-election bid at a June 20 daylong event at the club, which straddles the Baltimore City-county line on Charles Street. Former club officers and current members confirmed to The Sun that no African-American has been offered membership there since the club's founding in 1878.

Prominent African-American leaders have decried the club's membership roster, and several have criticized Ehrlich for holding an event there and for the response from him and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele since news of the fund-raiser was published.

"I don't know what their membership is, and guess what? It's not my business. It's a private club, which we rented," Ehrlich said in a radio interview early last week.

Steele told the Associated Press, "I don't know that much about the club, the membership, nor do I care, quite frankly, because I don't play golf. It's not an issue with me."

Duncan's letter comes a day after he and Ehrlich shared a handshake during an announcement that the governor had selected a route for the Inter-County Connector highway in the Washington suburbs.

Duncan said he did not raise the country club issue with Ehrlich on Monday because it was a "different event."

He said he issued his call yesterday because "I was waiting for the governor to apologize. Rather than apologize, he dug his feet in the ground. I was waiting for Steele to reconsider his comments, as well. What they are doing is an affront to a lot of people in the state. At a time when we need to bring people together and build community, they are trying to divide us."

Duncan's letter said that Ehrlich's lack of an apology "further deepens those wounds" first opened last year when Ehrlich called multiculturalism "bunk" and "crap."

Montgomery County is home to several exclusive clubs, including Burning Tree, which has been the subject of extensive state litigation for its practice of excluding women. Duncan said he has never held a fund-raising event at Burning Tree.

The O'Malley campaign, which has been reluctant to respond to Duncan's forays into Baltimore and his jabs at the mayor's record, said yesterday that it would follow a policy of staying away from exclusive country clubs.

"Martin O'Malley won't hold events at clubs that discriminate," said Jonathan Epstein, the mayor's campaign manager. The campaign has found no examples of prior campaign events at similar facilities.

Duncan sent an additional letter to the state Democratic Party, asking the party to refrain from frequenting exclusive clubs.

"We absolutely abide by that rule," said Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman, adding that Ehrlich and Steele's response to the issue has inflamed the problem. "This is an example of their right-wing arrogance with a comment that they didn't care," he said. "That alone speaks volumes as to how they feel about human and civil rights."

Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane said Ehrlich has a laudable record on civil rights, noting that his lieutenant governor is Maryland's first black statewide elected official.

"Across the board, his record on supporting minorities and not supporting racism has been very clear," said Kane. Duncan's demand, Kane said, "is partisan politics in an election year."

Ehrlich has accused The Sun of a double-standard for not reporting on Democrats who held events at the club. In a follow-up article, the paper reported that Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., a Democrat, attended a May fund-raiser for him at the club. Smith said that after learning of the club's history, he will hold no more functions there.

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