- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2005

Conservative black leaders have accused Democrats of racism in acquiring the credit report of Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a black Republican expected to announce a run for the U.S. Senate.

“It is partially racist,” said the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, a nationally syndicated talk-radio host and founder of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, a religious group dedicated to rebuilding urban families.

“They are trying to prevent any [black] Republican from forging ahead,” he said. “If a black Republican sets the tone, it is going to have a huge impact on young blacks. It is going to show them that Republicans are not trying to hold you back, they are not trying to stand in your way.”

Mr. Peterson said Democrats are wary of losing their historically solid base of support in the black community.

“There is a sense of desperation there,” he said. “Blacks are starting to take a look at the liberal leadership and see that they have not done anything for them in 40 years.”

Niger Innis, national spokesman for the civil rights group the Congress of Racial Equality, agreed.

“I don’t think it is a mere coincidence that the [Democrats] targeted the highest-ranking, statewide black Republican elected official,” he said. “They are very fearful of the reception Michael Steele is getting from black voters all over Maryland. That obviously scares the [daylights] out of not only Maryland Democrats but Democrats nationwide.”

Phyllis Berry Myers, co-founder of the Mayflower Compact Coalition, a black leadership alliance, said Democrats were targeting black Republicans and playing to racial stereotypes by delving into Mr. Steele’s credit history.

“One of the things black people are accused of is that they don’t know how to handle money,” she said. “To go after the lieutenant governor in this manner just shows [the Democrats’] racial insensitivity. … You would think that those who claim to be such friends and allies of black voters would understand the implications of going after someone’s credit report.”

Mr. Steele, the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland, has become a rising star in the national Republican Party and is considered the party’s best hope for capturing the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat.

For more than two months, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District and the FBI have been investigating the unauthorized obtaining of Mr. Steele’s credit report by two former staffers of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

The staffers were doing opposition research on Mr. Steele when they apparently found his Social Security number on court documents and used it to access his credit data.

Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, knowingly and willfully obtaining a credit report under false pretenses is a felony punishable with a fine and a maximum of two years imprisonment.

“As the DSCC has repeatedly stated, this was a single incident that was immediately reported to the U.S. attorney,” DSCC spokesman Phil Singer said yesterday. “The DSCC regrets that this incident occurred and has apologized to Mr. Steele. ”

Mr. Singer has characterized the incident as an isolated event by two young staffers who had a lapse in judgment.

The Rev. Anthony Williams, pastor of Chicago’s St. Stephen’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, said he did not believe the DSCC singled out Mr. Steele’s credit report because he is black.

However, he said the Democrats should receive the same scrutiny as would Republicans when race is potentially an issue.

“Political mercenaries in the Democratic Party … always use the race card. It’s a double standard,” said Mr. Williams, a black political activist and registered independent.

“I think [the Democrats] are hiding something,” he said. “If it was one of their own under attack, they would be hollering from the rooftops. They all want to act like they don’t have their fingerprints on this. … By the way, where is the outrage from the Congressional Black Caucus?”

Rep. Melvin L. Watt, North Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, did not return a call seeking comment.

The staffers involved have been identified as Katie Barge, the DSCC’s research director, and her deputy, Lauren Weiner.

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