Michael Cryor steps out from behind the scenes

State's Democratic Party chairman explores his new visibility

Election 2008

August 29, 2008|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,david.nitkin@baltsun.com

DENVER - A rare undercurrent of emotion crept into the voice of Baltimore's Michael Cryor - the only black state party chairman in the nation - as he spoke to Maryland convention delegates the morning after the nomination of the nation's first major-party African-American presidential candidate.

"We have to make inclusiveness real," Cryor said in hushed tones during the final meeting of the Maryland convention delegation yesterday. "It can't be a matter of convenience."

Cryor, 62, has built a career by staying cool under stress and providing sound advice in confidence. Gov. Martin O'Malley, a friend and confidant, calls him the "horse whisperer" for his skill at dousing passions at the right time. Others call him the "wizard."

But it was understandable if, despite the neat pin-stripe suit and ruler-straight pocket silk, the facade crackled just a bit. Cryor has been thrust into perhaps his most public role ever this week, as head of a diverse state party at a pivotal juncture in American political history.

He has been widely in demand during the Democratic National Convention, keeping a video diary for ABC News and conducting interviews with foreign news media. But he has also spent a lot of time on such wearying tasks as snagging valuable credentials for friends of delegates who wanted to get inside the Pepsi Center or Invesco Field.

"He is one of the greatest organizers I have ever seen," said U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore.

For decades, Cryor has been a respected but low-profile player in Baltimore and Maryland, quietly mentoring young people and steering them to good jobs and careers. His political resume dates to the time of Parren Mitchell, the revered Baltimore congressman, for whom Cryor worked as a driver and special assistant..

Cryor "is someone that doesn't need to boast about who he knows and what he has done," said former Baltimore City Councilman Keifer Mitchell, who is Parren Mitchell's nephew. "He is Baltimore's version of Vernon Jordan."

He was part of a small kitchen cabinet that met weekly with O'Malley as the mayor was preparing to run for governor. By winning, O'Malley effectively gained control of the state party, and Cryor was the person the new governor wanted at the helm.

O'Malley asked once, and Cryor said no. O'Malley asked a second time. Same answer. Only when asked yet again did Cryor accept. "It wasn't my thing," he said. "I was the behind-the-scene guy."

Cryor's wife, Erica, development director at Morgan State University, didn't like his initial answer. "It was time for the state to have his talents," she said.

Cryor was born in Baltimore and attended James Mason Elementary School. He father was a barber with a shop on Calhoun Street, and later on Stricker Street.

His charisma was evident at a young age. Erica Cryor says schoolgirls used to wait at the intersection of North Avenue and Bentalou Street just to see him come off the school bus. She saw it happen herself.

Cryor played standout baseball at City College and is a member of the school's hall of fame. He studied psychology at Morgan State University and received a masters degree from Montclair State.

He was a department head at Lincoln Hospital, an affiliate of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and was an associate dean at Morgan. He then turned his knowledge of human behavior into a career as a public relations and communications consultant.

Del. Curt Anderson, a former broadcaster in Baltimore, tells a story of Cryor's relationship with a Baltimore man who was known for jogging throughout the city, convinced he could break the world record for consecutive days spent running. Cryor became the man's publicist, convincing him to run on the Morgan State track and pitching the story to media throughout the city.

"Michael was relentless," said Anderson, who covered the story. Crowds of reporters swelled as the man ran into his fifth, sixth and seventh day, collapsing just a few hours short of the record.

"This was a nobody he was helping, just because he had heart," Anderson said. "He's helped as many people with heart as he has paying customers. That's why he is where he is today."

His clients have included AT&T, IBM, the University Of Maryland School of Medicine, and the Baltimore City School System.

Cryor was one of the top architects of the "Believe" campaign that branded the city while O'Malley was mayor, and which still lives on bumper stickers with variations such as "B'lieve Hon" and "Behave."

Cryor's political background includes a stint managing the U.S. Senate campaign of Rep. Michael Barnes of Montgomery County.

Barnes was defeated by Barbara A. Mikulski., and Cryor went on to join the first presidential campaign of Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, making connections that could prove valuable if the Obama-Biden ticket wins in November.

He is a familiar face to many Baltimoreans from a decade spent as host of a Sunday morning public affairs show on WJZ-TV.

Shortly after Cryor accepted the party chairmanship, his wife was treated for uterine cancer. The diagnosis came five years after he had his own bout with cancer: a tumor was removed from his groin.

But he plunged into the job with gusto, bringing party fundraising to new heights. "The party's leadership has never been stronger, thanks to his leadership," O'Malley said.

Erica and Michael Cryor appeared energized and vibrant throughout the convention, accompanied by their daughter, Maisha, a Commerce Department lawyer in Washington.

A polished speaker with a commanding stage presence, Cryor held his own on a stage shared with powerful elected orators such as Cummings and O'Malley. But he says he harbors no desire for his own elected office. "I don't have personal ambition in this," he said.

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