Focusing on senior citizens

Democratic candidates reach out to key voters

U.S. Senate

August 24, 2006|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,sun reporter

Settling in behind the podium at the Keswick Multi-Care Center, Kweisi Mfume thanked the elderly residents for their applause. Then he expressed gratitude for the lives they had lived.

"I would be remiss ... if I didn't first take time simply to thank all of you in this room," he told the 50 men and women, most of them in wheelchairs, who gathered in a community room at the skilled nursing and adult care facility in North Baltimore yesterday.

"I want to thank you for your contributions to our country," said Mfume, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. "I want to thank you for your contributions to our communities. I want to thank you for your contributions to your families."

With the primary election less than three weeks away, the former congressman and NAACP chief was reaching out to the elderly, a large and growing segment of the voting population. Like his principal rival for the Democratic nomination, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Mfume spoke of fighting against the privatization of Social Security and increasing access to health care.

"It's a shame that a million people were forced into Medicaid last year in this country, the greatest nation on the face of the Earth, because they didn't have the ability to take care of themselves," Mfume said. "And what's worse is that 46 million people - some may be in this community, and some might be family, and some all over this state - 46 million people that got up this morning and don't have health care, and can't afford to get sick."

Mfume spoke at a "Respect for Seniors" event organized by Mid-Atlantic LifeSpan, an association representing some 300 senior care organizations in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Also on the bill yesterday were Democrats John P. Sarbanes, a 3rd District congressional candidate; Stuart O. Simms, who is running for attorney general; and Peter Franchot, a candidate for comptroller.

Cardin was not invited to the session. Sidney Francois, grass-roots director of Mid-Atlantic LifeSpan, said other candidates would be invited to a future event at Keswick.

Cardin has been visiting senior centers and care facilities throughout his campaign to talk about his record and his agenda on senior issues, spokesman Oren Shur said. A senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Cardin was author of legislation to expand Medicare to cover cancer screenings and to expand the amounts that Americans could save in 401(k) and individual retirement accounts.

Last week, Cardin released a study that indicated that more than 51,000 of the 184,000 Marylanders enrolled in a Medicare stand-alone prescription drug plan fell into a coverage gap on drug costs between $2,250 and $5,100.

He introduced legislation this year to guarantee a prescription drug benefit within Medicare and allow the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for the Part D program, which his campaign said would make it possible to eliminate the coverage gap.

"Ben Cardin has a long record of getting things done to help Maryland seniors," Shur said. "He led the fight to kill President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. He successfully got the Medicare system changed so seniors can get the cancer screenings they need. Maryland seniors know they can count on Ben Cardin to stand up for them and get real results."

At Keswick yesterday, Mfume described arguing with Bush against privatizing Social Security during a meeting in the Oval Office 18 months ago.

"I still feel that way, and I'm still prepared to go now to the United States Senate and to fight for that," he said.

On his way out, Mfume stopped to shake hands with Keswick resident Marie Emala.

"I enjoyed that very much," she said. "I wish you all the luck in the world."

Emala declined to give her age but described herself as "an old Democrat." She said she wouldn't have missed the opportunity to meet the candidates.

"I had to come and hear somebody who was close to the old people," she said.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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