- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Some of Maryland's prominent black Democrats say their party has done little to reward minority voters, who have been instrumental in helping the party stay in control of state offices.
Democrats need to advocate more for the little guy and do more "spreading the dream for a real meritocracy," said Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, the only black chief executive of Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore.
"Because the state is so overwhelmingly Democratic, there are lots of Republicans in Democratic clothing," said Mr. Curry, 51, who is weighing his political future as he completes his second and final term this year. "Unfortunately, the progress of affirmative opportunity hasn't kept pace while so much has changed, much remains the same."
Mr. Curry is one of several Democrats, both black and white, who have joined the state Republican Party in a lawsuit to overturn a state redistricting plan that was written by Democratic leaders.
Although Maryland Republicans led by state party chairman Michael Steele, who is black have been making efforts to recruit minorities, Mr. Curry said they'll have to "get serious" and work hard to make wide incursions into Democratic territory.
Delegate Lisa Gladden of Baltimore said she can justify being a Democrat, but doesn't know why her party isn't doing more to cultivate promising black Democrats, a task she has taken on herself with a group of 15 young persons from her district.
"The young African-Americans that have talent are tempted and often taken by the Republicans because they know they'll push them to the top," Miss Gladden said.
Rushern L. Baker III, chairman of the Prince George's County House delegation, said promising black leaders shouldn't wait for the Democratic power structure to tap them for promotion.
"There should have been talk already about putting [a proven black leader] on a statewide ticket," Mr. Baker said.
Roscoe Nix, former president of the Montgomery County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said black voters and their concerns would get more attention if more blacks joined the Republican Party.
"If African-Americans were being strategic politically, they'd join the Republican Party," said Mr. Nix, a longtime Democrat and former county school board member. "If they were politically astute, they'd infiltrate the Republican Party. They need to be more adaptable."
Many young black Democrats agree that the party has taken black leaders and voters for granted.
"Our needs aren't being addressed as vigorously because it's assumed we'll be there" to deliver votes for the Democratic Party when needed, said Baltimore City Council Vice President Stephanie Rawlings Blake.
To overcome that, Mrs. Rawlings Blake said, blacks need to start by collectively pushing issues such as treatment for drug addiction, which devastates families, neighborhoods and futures, and clogs Baltimore's courts.
Delegate Dereck E. Davis of Prince George's County says black lawmakers need to be more vocal within the party.
"I'm not saying we should go to an alternative, but we need to stand up and speak up about moves away from our ideals," Mr. Davis said.
Some say Democrats need to do more to identify, develop and promote black politicians to top posts.
Mr. Nix said too many Democratic incumbents "want to die in office" instead of making way for new talent, and that party powers too often protect incumbents at the expense of minorities.
The Rev. C. Anthony Muse, pastor of the Ark of Safety Christian Church and a former delegate representing Prince George's County, said he believes the Democratic Party has done the best job of representing black interests, but neither his party nor the Republican Party has done as well as they should.
"We need to look at issues as issues, but we've been so caught up on Republican or Democratic agendas that we've failed to look at what's good for people," Mr. Muse said. "[Democrats] will champion a cause, but if the Republicans come up with a cause, we'll kill it because it was theirs."
A good example, Mr. Muse said, is the Republican redistricting plan that would have created single-member districts for each of the 141 seats in the House of Delegates. Single-member districts would have led to an increase in minority representation, argued its supporters, including some Democrats.
"It was incumbent on us to say, 'Hey, that's a better plan, let's do that,'" Mr. Muse said.
Legislative Black Caucus chairman Talmadge Branch faulted Democratic Party officials for failing to share information, such as voting lists, that could be useful to candidates.
But he said communication with black politicians has begun to improve and defended the Democratic Party's redistricting plan as less divisive than the Republicans', which he said could isolate communities.
"We've fought for inclusiveness. If you single out white areas, you've almost got segregation again," Mr. Branch said.
Many black Democrats have asked their party to help put a black candidate on the ticket as a candidate for lieutenant governor.
Doing that is "one of about a hundred concerns that are out there in terms of African-American voters," according to Maryland Democratic Party Executive Director Ann Beegle.
She also cited communication and training leaders as concerns.
Even though whites make up about 64 percent of the population in Maryland, 81 percent of state senators and about 71 percent of state delegates are white.
But while black representation in the General Assembly isn't proportionate with the state population, Maryland is closer to that goal than most states, Miss Beegle said.
She said Maryland, which has the fifth-highest proportion of black voters in the nation, ranks third among the states in electing black legislators to the lower house and fifth in electing black senators.


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