Democrats gnaw at Oreos incident

Lieutenant governor accused of changing story to fit politics of his audiences

November 18, 2005|By DAVID NITKIN | DAVID NITKIN,SUN REPORTER

Maryland Democrats are accusing Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele of altering his description of a racially tinged incident at a 2002 gubernatorial debate, depending on his audience's political orientation.

On the Wednesday night edition of the Fox television show Hannity & Colmes, Steele gave his latest comments on the 2002 Morgan State University debate between then-Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, where he and others say Oreo cookies were used by audience members as an insult.

Steele was asked by conservative host Sean Hannity, "You had Oreo cookies thrown at you?" Steele responded, "Yup."

The state Democratic Party yesterday charged Steele with deliberately allowing the racially tinged incident to seem more aggressive and violent when speaking on right-leaning television and radio stations than when talking to other media outlets.

On WTOP radio in Washington earlier this week, for example, Steele gave a more passive account of the incident.

"I never claimed that I was hit. No," said Steele, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, on WTOP. "The one or two that were at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have even noticed. To me it was a very subtle occurrence. It was not, as some have described it, a barrage of cookies."

Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Derek Walker said Steele and his supporters hope to gain traction by portraying the lieutenant governor as a victim in the incident - the accounts of which have varied.

The Washington Times has reported several times in recent weeks that Steele was "pelted" with the cookies during the debate. Paul E. Schurick, the governor's communication officer who worked on the Ehrlich campaign at the time, told The Sun that Oreos "were thick in the air like locusts."

"This story gets revised every single day by Republicans who would rather talk about anything other than how out of touch their agenda is with the needs of Maryland," Walker said. On Hannity & Colmes, Steele "was going along with this mythology as a way to play out the story for Fox's eager right-wing audience," he said.

Corrogan R. Vaughn, a Republican candidate for Senate in 2002 who intends to run against Steele next year, yesterday criticized what he said were exaggerated accounts of the event perpetuated by Ehrlich supporters. Vaughan said he was volunteering for the Ehrlich campaign at the debate and saw no cookies thrown.

He said he saw people rolling Oreos along a street outside of the fine arts center, but that Steele and Ehrlich were not outside at the time. "Why wasn't someone apprehended, arrested or detained" by police or executive protection if cookies were thrown, Vaughn asked.

Steele campaign spokesman Leonardo Alcivar denied that Steele was changing his story. Debate on whether Oreos were tossed or rolled is "semantics," he said.

"I think that any semantics with regard to this issue is insulting to voters who are looking for real leadership on real issues," he said. "We are going to address the real issues facing people right now."

david.nitkin@baltsun.com

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