Former Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry and five fellow black Democrats on the county council excoriated their party yesterday and endorsed Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican, for U.S. Senate.
"The [Democratic] Party acts as though when they want our opinion, they'll give it to us. It's not going to be like that anymore," said Mr. Curry, who in 1994 became the county's first black executive and remains influential in the mostly black and heavily Democratic county.
Mr. Curry and the lawmakers said Democratic leaders repeatedly have snubbed the black community and their county, noting the lack of party support for the Senate campaign of former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chief Kweisi Mfume, who lost the Democratic primary to Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin.
The Democratic ticket lacks black candidates, they said, and candidates from Prince George's County, which is home to more than 320,000 registered Democrats -- the most of any jurisdiction in Maryland.
"We're not puppets. We're not gullible," Mr. Curry said during a press conference at the Infusion Tea Cafe in Largo. "This ain't the first time we've charged up a hill."
He was joined by fellow black Democrats David Harrington of Bladensburg, Samuel H. Dean of Bowie, Camille A. Exum of Capitol Heights, Tony Knotts of Temple Hills and Marilyn Bland of Clinton -- all officials on the nine-member county council.
Other black Democratic leaders endorsing Mr. Steele yesterday included Major Riddick, former chief of staff for former Gov. Parris N. Glendening; Ron Lipscomb, a major fundraiser and trustee of the state party; and businessmen Clayton Duhaney and M.A. "Mike" Little.
"There's a revolution going on here," said Jerry McLaurin, a county developer and Steele supporter who attended the announcement. "This is going to radiate throughout the county like an explosion."
Mr. Steele, who lives in the county and is the first black to be elected to statewide office in Maryland, said he was "humbled."
"As I started this campaign, I said to myself I didn't want this to be so much about party as about people, and these individuals seem to understand and appreciate that as well," he said.
The endorsements were issued as Democratic officials are scrambling to secure their most loyal bloc -- black voters.
Mr. Curry said the Steele endorsements are "the continuation of a long civil rights struggle."
Mr. Dean, a former council chairman who was elected in 2002 with 93 percent of the vote, said blacks have had a one-sided relationship with the Democratic Party since they shifted allegiance from the Republican Party in 1932.
"We were in the Democratic Party while they were lynching black folks. We were in the Democratic Party while they were segregating folks," Mr. Dean said. "We have been loyal Democrats, [but] when the party has an opportunity to do something to show that their base is recognized, appreciated and acknowledged, they don't."
"The issue is what we want not only from the state party but from the national party," he said. "Give us respect. We cannot continue to be in the room but not allowed to come to the table. What we are doing now is saying, 'Forget it. We are not going to wait for you to bring us to the table. We are going to not only get to the table, we are going to take it.' "
Other Maryland Democratic leaders -- such as U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Delegate Anthony G. Brown of Prince George's County, who is running for lieutenant governor -- declined to comment.
A Cardin campaign spokesman did not return calls.
Mr. Cardin, a white 10-term congressman from Baltimore, said this weekend that his "message to the African-American community and to all communities is that we've got to change the priorities in Washington."
"You're twice as likely to be without health insurance if you're African-American. So, yes, [black voters are] concerned about a senator who's going to stand up for universal health coverage. I will. Michael Steele won't. He supports George Bush's policies," Mr. Cardin said.
Mr. Curry said that Mr. Steele is a "good man with a good plan," and although he differs with some of Mr. Steele's views, he also differs with some of the Democratic Party's platform.
He said the lieutenant governor is "most responsive to the things that will make our futures brighter."