Club admits black member

Elkridge golf venue accepts developer as 1st African-American

November 11, 2005|By DAVID NITKIN | DAVID NITKIN,SUN REPORTER

The Elkridge Club, the exclusive golf venue where Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. held a much-criticized fundraiser this year, has admitted an African-American member for the first time in its 127-year history, a club newsletter shows.

Developer Theo C. Rodgers and his wife, Blanche, are listed as newly elected members in the September newsletter, a copy of which was provided to The Sun yesterday.

But as Rodgers writes a new chapter in Elkridge history, a sister facility - the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, founded in 1892 for fox hunting - awaits its first African-American member, club members say. One member of the Baltimore County club is Jervis S. Finney, the chief legal counsel and ethical adviser to Ehrlich. Members of the two clubs share reciprocal privileges.

FOR THE RECORD - The final sentence in an article in yesterday's editions of The Sun on the membership of the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club should have quoted members as saying that the club has no black members.

Asked yesterday whether it was appropriate for a top aide to the governor to belong to a club that has never admitted a black member, Finney said "certainly." He declined to elaborate.

Rodgers, president of A&R Development Corp., did not return several messages left for him, including those left yesterday. Elkridge Club President Jay M. Wilson, a vice chairman of Mercantile Bankshares Corp., also did not return several calls for comment.

Rodgers is also president of the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust, or BEST, which raises money to help minority students attend private schools in the area. A recreational golfer, he has previously listed the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills as his home course.

In June, the governor held a golf fundraiser at Elkridge that yielded $100,000 for his re-election campaign. Shortly after, several African-American lawmakers and leaders criticized the governor for appearing to condone racially exclusive policies. A Harford County pastor has organized a protest demanding that the club integrate. For weeks, sign-carrying protesters have stood most mornings at traffic intersections near the club, which straddles the city-county line.

Club members have said that Elkridge has no rules that base membership on race, and that members had tried for years to solicit African-American applicants.

"Theo has had a long history of breaking color barriers in the business community, so he will take a difficult and delicate situation and make it work so it will be better for anyone who comes behind him," said Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Maryland.

"If there is a tragedy in all of this, it is sad to note that 57 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, that we are still faced with having a need to break the color barrier in other institutions," Mfume said. "I think what this says more than anything else to the casual onlooker is another vestige of segregation has been made to fall away."

The Elkridge situation presented a political conundrum this year for Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who is black and running for U.S. Senate.

Both initially dismissed the criticism. "I don't know what their membership is, and guess what? It's not my business," Ehrlich said shortly after the first news accounts.

"I don't know that much about the club, the membership, nor do I care, quite frankly, because I don't play golf," Steele said.

But as criticism mounted, both altered their messages. Three weeks after his initial comments, Steele acknowledged that his remarks were "flippant," and called on the club to change its practices.

"I would encourage Elkridge and others to reconsider their policies, that are stated or unstated," he said, saying that the membership roster "grates" African-Americans and others. The governor said he agreed.

The club's roster discloses numerous graduates of the Gilman School and Princeton University, the schools Ehrlich attended, and the governor has close relationships with several prominent members.

Redmond C.S. Finney, the brother of Jervis Finney, belongs to Elkridge. A former Gilman headmaster and former all-American football player at Princeton, Redmond Finney was so respected by Ehrlich that the future governor honored him by wearing his number while playing for Princeton decades later. In 1982, Redmond Finney was one of the organizers of BEST, the organization that Rodgers leads.

Another member is John Reith, the Ehrlich campaign's finance director who has helped raise millions for the governor's political career. Michael J. McCarthy, president of Riparius Construction Co. and Gilman classmate of Ehrlich who has helped raise money for the governor, also is a member.

Club and school records show that 16 of the 58 members of the board of trustees of the Gilman School are members of Elkridge. More than 90 of Ehrlich's fellow Princeton alumni are on the club roster, the records show.

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