Article prompts cry of racism

Steele supporters say black Democrats condone inflammatory attacks

November 03, 2005|By DAVID NITKIN | DAVID NITKIN,SUN REPORTER

Republicans and African-American supporters of Michael S. Steele are accusing black Democratic elected officials of condoning racially inflammatory criticism of the lieutenant governor during the early stages of his bid for U.S. Senate.

"I don't care if you are running for dogcatcher. You ought to stand up in this state and say, `This is not right,'" said Garland O. Williamson, president of the Presidents' Roundtable, a group of black Baltimore business leaders, at a news conference organized by Steele's campaign staff yesterday.

The outcry came in response to an article published yesterday in The Washington Times that quoted several black Democratic lawmakers saying that Steele, who is black, does not espouse policies and values shared by a majority of African-American voters.

The article concludes that the lawmakers believe that some recent attacks against Steele are justified, such as a doctored picture on a liberal blog that showed Steele in minstrel makeup. But the politicians said that their quotes were taken out of context and that they do not support racially tinged criticism. The reporter who wrote the article and the managing editor of the Times did not return telephone calls.

"One can talk about race without being racist," said state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat quoted in the Times article. She called the minstrel image "inappropriate" because "it relies on derogatory images of African-Americans, and it has no place in politics."

Del. Salima S. Marriott, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the city House delegation, said in a WBAL radio appearance that Steele's views are not shared by a majority of blacks.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he was "stunned."

"Part of me is stunned by this, but part of me also understands the comments that have been made about Michael over the years," Ehrlich said yesterday. "He is angry, maybe angrier than I've ever seen him."

But Democrats say they do not support racial attacks and are comfortable engaging Steele on issues. "This has got to be a campaign about issues," said Kweisi Mfume, the former congressman and NAACP head who is running for Senate as a Democrat, also appearing on WBAL. "It is important to condemn all words, deeds or attacks meant to demean anyone based on their race."

During an appearance in Baltimore last night, Steele declined to answer a reporter's question about the Times article. His spokesman, Leonardo Alcivar, said the inferences it contained were disturbing. "It is insulting to every Maryland voter to be told, as Democrats said today, that anyone who strays from the Democratic Party is a traitor to their race," Alcivar said.

david.nitkin@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.

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