- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Several black Maryland Democratic leaders agree with Kweisi Mfume that a lack of support for his U.S. Senate run by top Democrats will alienate black voters.

Delegate Obie Patterson lamented that his party’s most prominent white leaders — state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House minority whip — are backing the Senate bid of Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who is white.

“It has caused some people in my community, particularly the African-Americans, to wonder how they are going to vote, especially if Kweisi Mfume does not win in the primary,” said Mr. Patterson, Prince George’s Democrat and former chairman of the state legislature’s black caucus.

A Mfume loss in the September primary would burn state Democrats again, said former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry. He was referring to 2002 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s choice of a white, former Republican as her running mate.

“It would have profound implications. More salt in the wound can’t help,” said Mr. Curry, a Democrat.

Former state Democratic Party Chairman Isiah “Ike” Leggett, who many had hoped would be Mrs. Townsend’s running mate, said her selection of retired Navy Adm. Charles R. Larson raised “lingering resentment.”

“I was very disappointed that the party had missed an opportunity to expand and build on a very loyal group of voters,” said Mr. Leggett, who is running for Montgomery County executive.

“We gave Republicans a chance to run around the state as a party of opportunity,” he said. “The party got burned and I think rightfully so for that blunder. It was a huge blunder.”

With the support of prominent white Democrats, Mr. Cardin has amassed a $3.9 million war chest to Mr. Mfume’s $623,000.

Mr. Mfume, 57, a former congressman and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, last week told The Washington Times that black voters “will feel disaffected” if he is not nominated.

“I honestly believe that there is a core group in the leadership of the Democratic Party that understands [the importance of promoting black candidates], but I think there is an older group of political bosses who sort of control the [party’s] direction,” he said.

Similar charges of racial politicking have dogged the Democratic Party nationally.

For the New Orleans mayoral runoff election Saturday, Louisiana’s white Democratic leaders primarily backed Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. The white Democrat raised significantly more money than incumbent Mayor C. Ray Nagin, a black Democrat, but lost the election.

Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in Maryland. Blacks account for about 40 percent of registered Democrats in the state and have been the party’s most loyal voting bloc.

Mr. Mfume and Mr. Cardin, 62, are the top Democrats competing to replace Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat who is retiring. Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, 47, the first black candidate to win statewide office in Maryland, is running for the seat as a Republican.

Several black Democratic leaders, including state Sens. Lisa A. Gladden and Verna Jones, both of Baltimore, did not return calls seeking comment.

Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, a Baltimore Democrat running for state Senate, said party leaders overlooked black voters to support Mr. Cardin, but she doubted Mr. Steele would benefit from it.

“I believe that African-Americans are a much more substantial part of the party than the old-line [party leaders] are willing to reflect in their thinking,” Mrs. Marriott said. “But my constituents … understand more than ever the difference between a Democrat and a Republican.”

Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat, said he was not surprised that party leaders support Mr. Cardin, whose career includes long stints as speaker of the House of Delegates and 10 terms in Congress. Mr. Wynn also discounted predictions of a black backlash if Mr. Mfume isn’t the nominee.

“I will be glad when people stop assuming African-American voters are all going to react the same way,” Mr. Wynn said. “Some are going to support Cardin, some are going to support Mfume and some are going to support Steele. Race is a factor; it’s not the only factor.”

But Mr. Curry said, “It’s folly for the Democratic Party to conclude that black people won’t listen to Steele just because he’s a Republican. … [Democrats] are just so spoiled with the black vote.”

Meanwhile, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, both white, have chosen black running mates for their bids for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Neither Mr. O’Malley’s running mate, Delegate Anthony G. Brown of Prince George’s County, nor Mr. Duncan’s, former Baltimore State’s Attorney Stuart O. Simms, returned calls seeking response to Mr. Mfume’s remarks.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who in 2002 was elected the state’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years, has not announced his running mate in his re-election bid.

Brian DeBose contributed to this article.

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