- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Black Democratic lawmakers yesterday attributed Kweisi Mfume’s paltry war chest to their party leaders’ efforts to ensure that Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin wins the Democratic nomination for Senate.

“The Democratic Party … [has] tried to orchestrate Ben’s success from the outset. Them boys got together and said, ‘Ben’s the one,’” said Delegate Nathaniel T. Oaks, a black Baltimore Democrat who has endorsed Mr. Mfume.

“It’s a problem because of the message that it sends to individuals who may be interested in the future in holding elected office, especially African-American young people,” said Senate Majority Leader Nathaniel J. McFadden, a black Baltimore Democrat and a Mfume supporter.

But Derek Walker, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said the party is “militantly neutral” and has not tried to pick who succeeds retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat.

“The voters will be the ones who decide which leaders will serve them,” Mr. Walker said.

According to fundraising figures released yesterday, Mr. Mfume — the former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) — trails far behind Mr. Cardin, a 10-term congressman from Baltimore.

Mr. Mfume, who last March became the first Democrat to enter the race, has raised $421,000 and has $125,000 on hand.

Mr. Cardin, who announced his candidacy in April, has raised $2.8 million and has $2.1 million on hand.

In addition, the majority of Mr. Mfume’s 30 endorsements have come from black leaders in the state legislature, the Baltimore City Council or in Prince George’s County. Mr. Cardin, who is white, has been endorsed by more than 100 leaders, only a handful of them black.

For example, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the U.S. House Democratic whip and leader of the Maryland delegation, gave $4,000 to Mr. Cardin’s campaign in May.

“Roughly 4,000 individuals have contributed to Ben’s campaign, from every jurisdiction in the state,” Cardin spokesman Oren Shur said.

Baltimore City Council member Kenneth N. Harris Sr., a black Democrat who has endorsed Mr. Cardin, said race is a distraction in the contest.

“We’re spending all this time talking about this black candidate, that black candidate,” Mr. Harris said. “We have to look at the issues.”

Other black leaders, however, noted the significance of the only black to win a statewide office in Maryland — Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele — being a Republican in a predominantly Democratic state.

Mr. Steele has raised $1.3 million and has more than $786,000 on hand for his Senate bid. He also has the full support of state and national Republicans, including President Bush.

“You have a lot of independent minds out here who are thinking outside the box,” said Delegate Herman L. Taylor Jr., a black Democrat from Montgomery County. “Doors are remaining shut, but we find some other doors open…. The Democratic Party has a lot at stake.”

Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., a black Baltimore County Democrat who has not yet endorsed anyone, said: “I am hearing in my community that [Mr. Steele] is going to get a lot of the black vote.”

Mr. McFadden said Mr. Mfume has not received “recognition from the Democratic Party, and that’s an important lack of respect.”

“It’s a nod and a wink from the leaders of the party to the funders that it’s not OK to donate to his campaign,” he said. “The signal didn’t go out that he was a viable candidate, which is absurd.”

“[Mr.] Cardin is the anointed establishment candidate, and party higher-ups probably decided that he should get the money, and they’d rather not have a primary,” said Dan Walter, Mr. Mfume’s spokesman.

State Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt, a black Prince George’s County Democrat who has not endorsed a candidate, said: “Clearly, if all of those dollars could be conserved for the general election, that would be ideal.”

Delegate Salima S. Marriott, a black Baltimore Democrat who has endorsed Mr. Mfume, said she was “unaware of any movement in the Democratic Party to freeze Mr. Mfume out.”

Moreover, she said “the Democratic Party is the only alternative in Maryland for African-Americans and working-class people.”

According to the 2000 census, blacks account for about 28 percent of Maryland’s 5.3 million residents.

In addition, blacks are thought to make up an even larger percentage of the state’s 1.7 million registered Democratic voters. Democratic leaders have said that blacks will account for 40 percent of primary voters.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide