Three of Maryland’s top Democrats — including the two leading candidates for governor next year — declined to repudiate comments by black Democratic leaders who said racially tinged attacks against Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele are fair because he is a black conservative Republican.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, both white and running for governor, ducked direct questions about the propriety of the black leaders’ remarks, which The Washington Times reported yesterday.
“Steele’s got a record there that he has to defend. … I think he is open to criticism in a number of areas,” Mr. Duncan said after a tree-planting ceremony at an Olney middle school named after civil rights icon Rosa Parks, who was buried yesterday in Detroit.
“If there are criticisms to be leveled, they should be leveled on issues,” Mr. O’Malley said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Harbor Bank of Maryland, a black-owned bank in Baltimore.
But Kweisi Mfume, who is running for senator, yesterday outright condemned the comments by his fellow black Democrats.
“Racially tinged attacks have no place in this campaign for U.S. Senate,” said Mr. Mfume, who has chided his party’s lack of support for his campaign. “If they did, I could very well be the object of public racial humiliation, based on my skin color, by people who don’t like my politics.”
“Black bigotry can be just as cruel and evil as white bigotry. There are too many bigots in too many places,” Mr. Mfume said, repeating a common refrain from his speeches.
Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman backed the black Democrats’ comments.
“Mr. Steele is already known by the company he keeps,” said Mr. Lierman, who is white. “There is a reason people call [Republicans] the party of Clarence Thomas. … They support [U.S. Supreme Court Justice] Clarence Thomas and his priorities and his issues.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, did not return calls seeking comment.
The Times reported yesterday that several black Democratic leaders said using racial references to attack Mr. Steele were fair because of his politics.
“Party trumps race, especially on the national level,” said state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a black Baltimore Democrat. “It’s democracy, perhaps at its worst, but it is democracy.”
State Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat and vice chairman of the General Assembly’s black caucus, said black Republicans deserve criticism because the GOP has not promoted the interests of the black community.
Even the spokesman for Mr. Mfume’s campaign said pelting Mr. Steele with Oreo cookies and calling him an “Uncle Tom” are simply “pointing out the obvious.”
“There is a difference between pointing out the obvious and calling someone names,” Mfume spokesman Joseph R. Trippi said Tuesday.