- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Leading black lawmakers here say Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.’s lack of support for a bill to rename Baltimore-Washington International Airport after Justice Thurgood Marshall eventually will hurt Democrats at the ballot box.

“I don’t think he realizes how important this is to the common people on the street,” said House Deputy Majority Whip Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the bill. “People have called me and e-mailed me by the thousands. The bill has passed overwhelmingly in the House and the governor has indicated that he will sign it, so what is the problem?”

The bill passed earlier this month by a 104-25 vote and would rename the facility the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport in honor of the first black justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Marshall, a Baltimore native, died in 1993 at 84.

Mr. Burns, who is black, said Mr. Miller, who is white, told him and Rudolph C. Cane, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, in a meeting last week that he will not support the renaming.

“I was disgusted with what I heard,” said Mr. Cane, Dorchester Democrat. “He swore that he wasn’t against the bill, but he didn’t say that he would support it either.”

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, did not return calls for comment.

He has said previously the idea of changing the airport’s name should be considered carefully.

“We need to make certain it [the change] does not affect the marketing of this huge industrial hub of the state,” Mr. Miller said earlier.

Mr. Burns said he is worried that a lack of support from the Senate president will kill the bill and hurt the party with black voters.

“The senators do exactly what [Mr. Miller] feels,” Mr. Burns said. “It appears that the president has all the power in his hands.

“I am encouraging the ministers in the state to call the president. I am encouraging members of churches to call the president, and I am encouraging people who are not members of the church to call the president to let him know you just don’t do this to African-Americans and expect Democratic support in the future for what you want,” said Mr. Burns, who is the pastor of Rising Sun Baptist Church in Woodlawn.

“It seems to me that he wouldn’t thumb his nose at the black electorate like this because blacks vote Democratic. What does he want to do? Drive us from the party?” Mr. Burns said.

Delegate Tony E. Fulton, a black Baltimore City Democrat, agreed.

“I think that it’s very significant for African-Americans to honor Thurgood Marshall,” Mr. Fulton said. “There is no excuse one can give for not supporting this. It would be viewed as a smoke screen in the black community.”

Delegate Nathaniel T. Oaks, a black Baltimore City Democrat, condemned Mr. Miller’s lack of support.

“Moves like that play right into the hands of Republicans,” he said.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a white Republican, said earlier this month that he would consider the bill. In addition, 28 of the House’s 43 Republicans voted for the bill.

About 85 percent to 90 percent of blacks vote for Democrats in statewide elections, said Patrick E. Gonzales, president of Annapolis-based Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Justice Marshall’s legal career included his arguing the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court in 1954. The court’s ruling outlawed segregation in public schools.

Mr. Burns said renaming the airport would cost the state as little as $250,000 because not every sign needs to be replaced. He also said the change would give Justice Marshall the “national and international recognition that he deserves.”

Airports in Atlanta, New Orleans and Jackson, Miss., recently have been renamed for prominent blacks.

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