Black leaders endorse Cardin

Mfume backers unite around the Democratic Senate nominee

September 20, 2006|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,sun reporter

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin was endorsed by several of Baltimore's most influential black politicians yesterday - officials who had backed his rival in the Democratic primary for Senate - during an event designed to communicate his embrace by the city's African-American leaders.

But one key figure was missing: former NAACP chief Kweisi Mfume, whom Cardin defeated in Tuesday's contest.

"We'll be together very shortly," Cardin said after the midday rally in front of City Hall, referring to Mfume. "He would've been here today but for a scheduling conflict."

That photograph of Cardin and Mfume - the two of them locking arms and smiling - is an image Cardin could use to launch him into the general election against Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. It would do much to erase lingering questions about the unity of black and white Democrats as they try to defeat Steele, the state's highest-ranking African American official.

In Mfume's absence, however, a handful of his high-profile backers swooned over Cardin, an effort to convey the appearance of party unity six days after Cardin edged Mfume by about 19,000 votes out of nearly a half-million cast.

"We are family," said state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, the majority leader from Baltimore and former Mfume supporter. "Ben Cardin is my homeboy, not George Bush. Ben Cardin is the Democratic homeboy for the state of Maryland."

Steele, the GOP nominee, has called the president his "homeboy."

Cardin, a 10-term congressman and former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, was joined on the dais by state Sen. Verna L. Jones, Del. Curtis S. Anderson and Del. Catherine E. Pugh, among others.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who endorsed Mfume two weeks before the primary, said he is backing Cardin in the general election because he knows where the congressman stands on the issues. Steele, he said, is avoiding a substantive discussion about a range of matters, from the war in Iraq to education.

"We know where Ben Cardin stands on all the issues. We do not know who Michael Steele is, and we do not know what he stands for," Cummings said, intoning repeatedly, "Where do you stand?"

McFadden interrupted: "Behind George Bush."

Cardin also proposed two debates a week until the Nov. 7 election, with each focusing on a particular issue, such as Social Security, stem cell research, crime, judicial nominations, the environment, jobs and the economy, and poverty. He suggested that their first meeting take place Thursday at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville.

Doug Heye, a Steele campaign spokesman, said in an e-mail yesterday that Cardin should respond to Steele's earlier debate request and that Steele is "open to any type of format of debates" with Cardin and Kevin Zeese, a Green Party candidate for Senate.

"While we're happy Congressman Cardin has finally responded to our Sept. 13 letter requesting debates, we hope his campaign will respond to our follow-up request yesterday to begin the process in earnest," Heye wrote.

Zeese called to say he would gladly show up Thursday.

"I'm willing to meet either one [or] both of those guys any time," Zeese said.

Oren Shur, a spokesman for Cardin's campaign, said the debate invitation was sent to Steele, not Zeese.

Meanwhile, not everyone at Cardin's event appeared pleased with the shape of the state Democratic ticket. Jones, who supported Mfume and Stuart O. Simms for attorney general, said she would have preferred a more diverse slate. Simms, an African-American attorney who lives in Baltimore, also did not turn out for Cardin's event.

Four of the five Democrats nominated last week for statewide office are white men.

Still, Jones said, she was throwing her support to Cardin because he and the other Democrats running care about issues that affect the African-American community, including jobs and economic opportunity.

She said black voters should be casting a vote for substance, not "glitz," when they go to the polls in November.

"The candidates that I supported, unfortunately, didn't make it, and I wish they had. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to ignore the fact that I'm going to support someone who supports the Democratic agenda," Jones said.

Others appeared less wistful for what could have been and more certain in their endorsement of Cardin. "It is time for all Democrats to be home," McFadden said.

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