Ticket worries black senators

Md. lawmakers meet with O'Malley, Cardin about lack of diversity

Sun Exclusive

Maryland Votes 2006

October 05, 2006|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,Sun reporter

Worried about a lack of diversity atop the Democratic statewide ticket this fall, Maryland's African-American state senators recently met privately with Martin O'Malley and Benjamin L. Cardin to plan ways of boosting support among black voters.

The Democratic senators' suggestions ranged from asking O'Malley to pledge a diverse Cabinet if he is elected governor - including a spot for former attorney general candidate Stuart O. Simms - to demanding that Cardin consult more often with African-American leaders than Maryland's two current U.S. senators, according to state senators who attended the hourlong meetings in Annapolis.

"We have allowed ... the Republican Party to come up with the first African-American at the top of the ticket," said Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore, who attended the meetings. "The Democrats should have done something a long time ago. Hopefully we'll work toward that goal."

The private Sept. 27 meetings - including one with Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman - were called for shortly after the Sept. 12 primary by the state's 10 black senators, who call themselves the Committee of 10. Many say they are frustrated that both leading black candidates, Simms and Kweisi Mfume, lost in the Democratic primaries for attorney general and U.S. Senate, respectively.

The Republicans, meanwhile, are fielding Michael S. Steele for U.S. Senate. In 2002 Steele became the first African-American elected to a statewide office, as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s running mate. The Republicans hope Steele's presence will help the GOP capture some black voters while diminishing African-American turnout for Democrats.

O'Malley's running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown of Prince George's County, is the only black candidate on the statewide Democratic ticket.

Some of the black senators said that during the meetings, they complained about their perception that the Maryland Democratic Party did not give Cardin and Mfume equivalent support. They believe that greater black turnout spurred by equal party treatment could have delivered a black Democratic candidate to the U.S. Senate.

A bad taste

"The response to [Mfume's] candidacy left a sour taste in our mouth," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden of Baltimore.

The loss of that opportunity, several senators said, has left black voters disillusioned and vulnerable to either staying home Nov. 7 or supporting Ehrlich and Steele.

That's certainly how the Republicans view the situation.

"Given the lack of diversity on the Democratic ticket, these meetings were born of legitimate concerns about how an O'Malley/Brown administration would look," said Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for the Ehrlich campaign.

But McFadden said that Cardin's performance during last week's meeting reminded the senators of the congressman's commitment to diversity. When Cardin was speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, he appointed the first black to chair a committee.

"We wanted to make sure that they have on their agendas issues that are of critical importance to the African-American community," McFadden said.

Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's Democrat, said the meetings with Cardin, O'Malley and Lierman aired many resentments that echoed party divisions of 2002, when Kathleen Kennedy Townsend picked a white former Republican as her running mate.

"We talked about how to gin up the support we need from the African-American community in Baltimore City and Prince George's County because Ehrlich is really working hard in [both places]," Currie said.

"We represent a million voters in the state," he added.

Currie said the group asked Cardin to talk with them frequently and Cardin agreed to improve communications.

Cardin spokesman Oren Shur said the meeting was "positive and productive" but declined to comment further because it was a private meeting. On Tuesday, Cardin's campaign launched a commercial airing on black radio stations in the Washington market. The ads feature Glenn F. Ivey, the black state's attorney for Prince George's County. Shur said the spots were planned weeks ago.

O'Malley was in Prince George's on Saturday and Sunday, and on Tuesday he greeted commuters at 7 a.m. at the Branch Avenue Metro stop in Suitland. But his spokesman said the mayor and Brown have consistently campaigned in the Washington area. The Prince George's County campaign office has been open for months.

Brown, who also was in last week's meeting, said he explained to the black senators everything that he and O'Malley have been doing.

"We talked about how to maximize the effort in the African-American community," Brown said. "During this discussion there was an interest in, `Hey, we want to see Anthony more in the African-American community.'"

He added: "We also explained to them what my role will be in the larger broadcast media, direct mail and radio."

In the meeting with Brown and O'Malley, black senators were a bit more demanding then they were with Cardin.

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