Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that he would encourage the all-white country club where he held a fund-raiser to integrate and that he would look at the membership policies of venues for future events.
Speaking on NewsTalk on the Washington-area cable television station NewsChannel 8, Ehrlich said he agreed with Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's call last weekend for the Elkridge Club to seek black members.
The governor said Steele's initial comments -- that he didn't care about the club's policies because he doesn't play golf -- were flippant but that his later call for integration reflected the philosophy and record of the administration on issues of civil rights.
"Mike has also said, `Look, we're about opportunity, we're about opening up opportunity.' He would encourage the club obviously to welcome African-American members," Ehrlich said. "That's the same answer I had given. That's quite obvious."
He added: "Clearly, we'll look at it in the future. It's a good lesson. But the fact that it became a story is fascinating to me."
In previous broadcast interviews and published comments, Ehrlich had not called on the club to admit blacks, saying it was "none of my business."
`Disregard' for truth
Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Derek Walker said Ehrlich's comments are too little too late and "show a disregard for the truth."
"To say that something is `obvious' is not leadership," Walker said. "The way to demonstrate leadership is to make positive, proactive statements, not defensive, cat-and-mouse game-playing that is meant to confuse the public."
Ehrlich raised about $100,000 last month at a golf tournament at the club, which straddles the city-county line on North Charles Street. Members later confirmed to The Sun that the club has never had an African-American member in its 127-year history.
The members said membership offers are extended based on social and family connections and that there is no formal policy against admitting blacks. Some African-Americans have played golf or dined at the club, members said.
In the television interview, Ehrlich questioned the motivation of Democrats and minorities who criticized him for holding the event at the club, saying "prominent Democrats" had fund-raisers there.
He named one Democrat, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. Smith acknowledged having a May fund-raiser at the club but said he was unaware of Elkridge's membership composition and would not hold an event there again.
Ehrlich said he would not name any other Democrats because "they didn't know. They're in the same position I am."
Since news of the fund-raiser surfaced, Ehrlich aides and allies suggested names of Democrats who might have held events there.
Two of them, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, said they have not held fund-raisers at the club. Ruppersberger said last week that Ehrlich should take responsibility for his actions and not point the finger at others.
Record `a success'
Ehrlich said his stance on civil rights and diversity should be judged on his appointment of minorities to top government positions; his selection of Steele, who is African-American as a running mate; and his administration's reform of the state's minority business program.
"My record on civil rights and what this administration has done has been a success story, so you're obviously not going to go to any club you suspect of discrimination," Ehrlich said.