- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

RICHMOND Republican Mark L. Earley received a show of support yesterday from 15 black pastors who endorsed him for Virginia governor.
The pastors were part of a group of about 30 who make up African American Pastors for Earley. They said they were impressed by Mr. Earley's tough-on-crime record as a state senator and attorney general, but were even more impressed with his track record of helping the black community.
The Rev. Robert L. Baker Sr., pastor at a church in Portsmouth, recalled the time when a housing community was slated for demolition and none of the region's Democratic politicians did anything about it.
"Mark Earley was the only one to come down to see the situation and to go to [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] and get relocation benefits for those folks," he said.
The pastors also praised Mr. Earley as a candidate who respects Christian beliefs and would allow churches to be pace-setters in their communities.
"We see his as a tree bearing good fruit," said the Rev. George Quick, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Stafford, adding that Mr. Earley is "fit to sit" in the governor's mansion.
Mr. Earley's Democratic opponent, Mark R. Warner, responded by announcing he had won the endorsement of Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus, whose 14 members are Democrats. One of them, state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III from Richmond, called the pastors' remarks "not a significant amount of support."
Yesterday's endorsement by the pastors is the first tangible support from members of a group Mr. Earley had banked on early in his candidacy. One of his appeals to Republicans during primary season was that he could better attract black voters something unusual for a Republican candidate in Virginia.
"Historically, we have blindly given our votes to the Democratic Party, and look at the state of our community," said the Rev. Alex Boyd, pastor of a church in Richmond. "It's time for a change."
Part of the hope that Mr. Earley could do better was based on his lifelong membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and his continued attention to the issue of racial reconciliation, which dominated his speech when he kicked off his campaign earlier this year.
In his 1997 bid for attorney general, he garnered 20 percent of the black vote, according to exit polls, topping current Gov. James S. Gilmore III's 19 percent and Lt. Gov. John H. Hager's 13 percent. In 1993, Republican George F. Allen took 17 percent of the black vote on his way to victory.
With one month to go before the election, though, Mr. Earley seems to be falling short of the promise he made before winning the nomination. Polls have shown him with single-digit support among black voters, and his regular stump speech is now filled with red-meat Republican issues like tax cuts and improving public safety.
Still, Republicans haven't given up. They dismiss the poor poll numbers as a sign that few people were paying attention. Events like yesterday's endorsement give them hope for a good showing. "You're going to see that support manifest itself on November 6," said David Botkins, Mr. Earley's spokesman.
But Mr. Marsh said that support is jeopardized by remarks like those of Mr. Boyd, who said black voters have "blindly" supported Democrats. Such comments, Mr. Marsh said, are "insulting" to black voters.
"The implication is that African American voters all these years have been blind and stupid," he said.
He and Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for Mr. Warner's campaign, both questioned Mr. Earley's credentials on racial profiling, an issue that ignites passion in the black community and that divided the two candidates in their debate Wednesday night.
As attorney general, Mr. Earley put together a training program for state police troopers to help them avoid targeting people based of their race. But Mr. Marsh said Mr. Earley never supported legislation to study the extent of the problem, and Mr. Elleithee said Mr. Earley waited until weeks before he resigned to run for governor to announce the training program.
Mr. Elleithee also called on Mr. Earley to renounce the endorsement of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA) because of remarks by the group's president that Mr. Elleithee characterized as supporting racial profiling.
The alliance says Mr. Elleithee is taking the remarks out of context. According to a transcript, President Jim Fotis said as a police officer he would have stopped someone who was black in an all-white neighborhood at night, but also said he would have stopped someone who was white in an all-black neighborhood at night.
Mr. Botkins said the Warner campaign's charges against the LEAA were an attempt to divert the campaign from issues of taxation.

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