- The Washington Times - Friday, November 11, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — An exclusive suburban country club that was catapulted into the middle of Maryland’s racial politics when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. held a fundraiser there in June, reportedly has accepted the first black members in its 127-year history.

The Baltimore Sun reported yesterday that the Elkridge Club lists Baltimore developer Theo Rodgers and his wife, Blanche, as new members, citing as its source the club’s September newsletter.

The Elkridge Club would not publicly comment on its membership or its policies. Several members and former officers told the Sun this summer that the club has never had a black member, though none would speak for the record.

Club members said there is no written race-based prohibition and that blacks and other minorities have played golf and dined there. Members also said they have tried for years without success to get a black to join.

After a state law was passed prohibiting country clubs from getting a property tax break if they discriminated in their membership policies, the club gave up its tax break in 1977 rather than give its membership list to the state, Robert A. Zarnoch, an assistant attorney general, told the paper.

Elkridge’s membership excited little public notice until June, when Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, held a golf fundraiser there, netting $100,000 for his re-election campaign. Several politicians, most of them Democrats, criticized the governor for appearing to condone racially exclusive policies.

Their ire was aggravated when the governor initially appeared to dismiss the criticism as partisan politics.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who is black, added fuel to the controversy with his first comments, telling the Associated Press he didn’t know much about the club’s membership and did not care “because I don’t play golf. It’s not an issue with me.”

Both men eventually called upon the club to reconsider its policies and said they would be more cognizant of the issue when choosing sites for events.

Mr. Rodgers is president of A&R; Development Corp. and of the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust, which raises money to help minority students attend private schools in the area. A recreational golfer, Mr. Rodgers previously has listed Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills as his home course.

“Theo has had a long history of breaking color barriers in the business community, so he will take a difficult and delicate situation and make it work so it will be better for anyone who comes behind him,” said Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Maryland.

Founded in 1878 as the Elkridge Fox Hunting Club, it has had nearly 2,900 members, according to the club’s Web site.

Attempts yesterday by AP to reach the country club by telephone were unsuccessful. Mr. Rodgers’ office said he is out of the country and unavailable for comment.

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