Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons will be the host of a campaign fundraiser Thursday for Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s run for U.S. Senate.

The fundraiser for Mr. Steele, a Republican who would be the state’s first black U.S. senator if elected, will be held at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park in Baltimore.

Also scheduled to participate in the event are Cathy Hughes, founder and chairman of Radio One, a black-run broadcasting company specializing in urban markets, and hip-hop pioneer DJ Kid Capri.

Tickets to the reception are $35. VIP reception tickets are $500. An estimate of how much the event will raise was not available.

Ms. Hughes and Mr. Simmons, the man behind the Def Jam Recordings music label and the platinum-plated careers of acts including the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Run-DMC, embody Mr. Steele’s message of economic opportunity, campaign spokesman Doug Heye said.

“These are both people who not only built extremely successful companies but companies that are actively involved in their communities,” Mr. Heye said. “It goes to what Mr. Steele talks about in building legacy wealth.”

Mr. Simmons, who often has used his music empire to advance liberal political activism, has backed the Republican administration in Maryland.

He applauded Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, in February 2005 for winning over black voters with urban initiatives, especially criminal-justice reforms, and raising the Republican Party’s profile among blacks nationwide.

“He raised the whole party up,” Mr. Simmons said at the time. “He makes every Republican open for discussion” among black voters. Mr. Simmons campaigned in 2002 for Mr. Ehrlich’s Democratic rival, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and said he initially had negative impressions of both Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele. But he says the Ehrlich administration has demonstrated that both men “should be held up to the light as examples” of Republican leaders who are committed to all of their constituents.

• Fill ‘er up

Five of the Democrats running for D.C. mayor all acknowledge they are hooked — on gas-guzzling, inefficient cars.

“I drive a big, black Range Rover; it’s an SUV,” said Michael A. Brown, a lobbyist. “It’s terrible on gas, but I can’t help myself.”

Mr. Brown was the first to tackle the question, “What car do you drive and is it an SUV?” during a candidates forum at the Earth Conservation Corps in Southeast last week.

Adrian M. Fenty was next to answer, following up Mr. Brown’s honesty with a confession of his own.

“I also can’t help myself; I drive an SUV,” the Ward 4 member of the D.C. Council said of his Ford Explorer.

“I drive a Mercedes E-320, which probably isn’t the best on gas,” Marie C. Johns, a former Verizon executive, said with a laugh, “but I guess I can’t help myself either.”

Vincent B. Orange Sr. was the last to answer.

“I drive a Cadillac SRX,” the Ward 5 member of the D.C. Council said.

The car question was raised at the end of the 90-minute forum, which focused on environmental issues and cleaning the Anacostia River. Candidate Linda W. Cropp, D.C. Council chairman, did not attend.

“We were doing pretty well before that question,” Mrs. Johns said.

• Insecure

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings applauded U.S. and British authorities for thwarting a terror plot this month, but he also called for extra airport security beyond new restrictions on carry-on luggage.

“As terrorists try to stay one step ahead of us, we must stay 10 steps ahead of them,” said Mr. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which examines airport security.

He criticized current practices of screening for explosives at airports, noting that not all passengers and only a small percentage of air cargo are checked, despite the availability of bomb-detecting equipment at several dozen airports.

“All bags should be inspected by machines for explosives,” Mr. Cummings said. “We should also increase our rate of air cargo inspection.”

• Spirited support

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer is cultivating support in the Hispanic business community, lauding the “entrepreneurial spirit” of Hispanic business owners and vowing to get them more federal aid.

“Our state has benefited from the outstanding contributions of Hispanic businesses,” Mr. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said after meeting with Hispanic business leaders last week at the Coco Cabana Bar and Grill in Hyattsville. “To continue this upward trend, we must ensure that their concerns are heard at the federal level.”

Mr. Hoyer, the House minority whip, was co-sponsor of the Minority Owned Venture Empowerment Act that revamped the Small Business Administration’s minority business development program. He has held minority-business forums in Bowie and La Plata.

“Hispanics are leading over 1.6 million small businesses with annual revenues of over $220 billion,” he said. “Their combination of hard work and entrepreneurial spirit has paid great dividends for our nation’s economy.”

Maryland had more than 15,300 Hispanic-owned firms in 2002, an increase of 38 percent from 1997, according to the Small Business Administration.

At the Hyattsville event were Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Wilson Aldunate and Prince George’s Hispanic/Latino Chamber of Commerce President Rosa D. Amo.

• Debate time

The stalemate over whether the top two contenders for D.C. mayor will debate one-on-one has been settled.

Adrian M. Fenty had been demanding a personal phone call from D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp to arrange a debate.

Neither candidate made the call, but a debate is set for 4 p.m. today. NewsChannel 8 was the neutral third party that helped Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, and Mrs. Cropp come to terms. The hourlong showdown will be broadcast live on cable television.

Mrs. Cropp and Mr. Fenty appeared at a forum last week with other candidates, but Mrs. Cropp, whose campaign has criticized Mr. Fenty for missing debates, arrived just 15 minutes before the event ended. She said she had been meeting with the schools superintendent.

• Love the Bay

Bethesda businessman Josh Rales says he will be a champion for the Chesapeake Bay if elected to the U.S. Senate.

“Improving the health of our rivers and waterways is a critical component of protecting one of our nation’s most precious natural treasures: the Chesapeake Bay,” he said during a campaign stop at Cobb Island in Charles County.

Mr. Rales, who has raised his profile as a Democratic candidate for Senate by spending his personal fortune on a statewide TV ad campaign, took his “Driving Change” bus tour to a dock on the St. Mary’s River and met with leaders of the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association.

“If elected,” he said, “I will work to strengthen the Clean Water Act and ensure the federal portions of the Bay cleanup efforts are fully funded.”

• Missed meetings

Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer has missed more than half of the most recent 18 meetings of a committee that oversees investments by the state pension system, the Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday.

He has a better attendance record at the system’s board of trustees, which he chairs, the Sun said.

He missed three of 11 meetings of trustees last year, including two when he was excused for illness, and two of seven meetings this year. He was absent in June to attend two funerals.

Michael Golden, a spokesman for the comptroller, said Mr. Schaefer missed a second meeting Tuesday because he was attending a different meeting that had been postponed and then rescheduled.

When Mr. Golden was asked whether the meeting the comptroller attended dealt with state business, he replied: “I’d rather not say.”

The pension system has about $34 billion in assets and pays benefits to about 94,000 retired state employees, law-enforcement officers and teachers. About 190,000 current government employees are enrolled.

Mr. Schaefer is a member of the Investment Committee, which makes recommendations on hiring of fund advisers and develops investment strategies. While Mr. Schaefer has missed 11 of 18 meetings since the beginning of last year, the Sun reported, State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp has missed just two.

The 84-year-old comptroller has touted his accomplishments as a manager of state funds as one of the reasons he should be given another four years as the state’s chief tax collector.

Mr. Golden said that Mr. Schaefer is not required to attend the Investment Committee meetings and that his chief of staff, R. Dean Kenderdine, represents the comptroller when he is absent.

Montgomery County Delegate Peter Franchot, one of two Democrats running against Mr. Schaefer in the primary, said the absences show the comptroller is “just not up to the job.” Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said, as comptroller, she would miss a meeting only if she was sick or traveling.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the pension system reported a 10.4 percent return on investments, well above the target of 7.75 percent. The fund has grown from $26 billion to $34 billion over the past three years.

“Why would you argue with success?” Mr. Golden told the Sun.

• Perez endorsement

Former Maryland Gov. Harry R. Hughes endorsed Tom Perez for attorney general last Monday, saying Mr. Perez would do the best job of the three Democratic candidates to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and protect the environment.

“It’s getting more difficult all the time to protect this great body of water behind us, the Chesapeake Bay,” Mr. Hughes said at the Annapolis City Dock.

While governor from 1979 to 1987, Mr. Hughes helped form the Chesapeake Bay partnership among Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the District and the federal government that has been working for two decades to prevent further degradation of water quality in the Bay.

Mr. Perez, a member of the Montgomery County Council, said the environment would be one of his top priorities as attorney general.

“We’ve got to get a handle on the issues of growth and development,” he said.

Also running for the Democratic nomination are Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler and Stuart O. Simms, a former Baltimore prosecutor and former secretary of the state agencies that run prison systems for adults and juveniles.

• Silence on Shore

Maryland’s largest homosexual rights group says Eastern Shore politicians were largely unresponsive to its election-year survey.

Equality Maryland thus has endorsed just one candidate from the Eastern Shore.

The group endorsed Democrat Tim Quinn, who is running for delegate in parts of Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico counties.

Dan Furmansky, head of Equality Maryland, conceded that the group has little presence on the largely rural Eastern Shore.

“I’d love to hire somebody who lives on the Shore, organizing — we’re just not there,” Mr. Furmansky told the Salisbury Daily Times. “But the divide between Baltimore, Washington and the Eastern Shore is getting smaller all the time. That means that people who are gay or lesbian will no longer be an alien concept. They’ll just be your boring neighbor.”

Delegate Richard A. Sossi, Queen Anne’s Republican, said many of his Shore constituents disagree with Equality Maryland.

“It’s not an anti-gay thing by any means. It’s really to protect the traditional family,” he said.

Amy Doolittle and S.A. Miller contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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