- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2006

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday invoked the spirit of Martin Luther King, vowing to carry on the civil rights struggle in a speech at a black church in Prince George’s County.

“Our work is undone,” Mr. Steele, the first black elected statewide in Maryland, said during a Martin Luther King Day service at Hope Christian Church, a charismatic ministry in Lanham.

“We must continue to reach back and lift up the next generation,” said Mr. Steele, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. “We must continue to bend down and help uplift those in poverty, those on drugs, those who are leading a life that is leading them away from themselves, from the Lord, from their communities.”

His remarks to the roughly 850 congregants echoed his campaign message, and the political overtones continued when Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlmen took the podium.

“We will also accomplish Dr. King’s dream when we elect to high office men and women of conscience and character,” said Mr. Mehlmen, a Baltimore native. “Folks should listen when a leader comes along with a real vision for a more hopeful tomorrow.”

He said Mr. Steele is such as leader. “He’s a bridge builder. … Someone who can bring together Democrat and Republican, black and white, rich and poor, old and young, behind a strategy of hope.”

Racial issues have permeated Maryland’s Senate race, one of the most closely watched contests in the nation.

Democratic endorsements for Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who is white, and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who is black, have been made largely along racial lines. And Mr. Steele has received racially tinged criticism for being a conservative Republican.

Meanwhile, the leading Democratic gubernatorial contenders — Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, both white — have aimed to include blacks on their tickets. Mr. O’Malley already has chosen Delegate Anthony G. Brown of Prince George’s County as his running mate.

Hope Christian Church’s Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. condoned the politics that infused the service, saying King’s legacy was a mix of spirituality and politics.

He called on black church leaders to join the civil rights struggle for better education and economic opportunities, and urged his congregation to embrace political leaders such as Mr. Steele, regardless of their party affiliation.

“We are going to create an agenda, and it doesn’t matter who we have been with historically,” said Mr. Jackson, a Democrat who is endorsing Mr. Steele. “We are not going to vote party line. We are going to vote a righteous, moral line.”

Several congregants said they were impressed by Mr. Steele.

“He seems to be a man of character and a real trailblazer,” said Dwight L. Williams, 35, an engineer and independent voter who voted for President Bush and for Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democrat who also spoke at the service.

Pastor Rudy DePass, 72, said some of the 2,500-member congregation who are mostly black Democrats could vote for Mr. Steele if they believe he will address their issues.

“I think we are becoming more sophisticated and looking less at the party and more at the agenda,” he said.

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