- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

So, it is the black vote that will determine Tuesday’s election victories, the pollsters and pundits predict.

How many times have we heard that eleventh-hour rallying cry? Whenever polling numbers get uncomfortably close, pandering politicians suddenly head for the ‘hood, or at least to the black churches remaining in what was once considered the ‘hood.

This year more than ever, it appears, no serious candidate would be caught dead without a smiling black supporter in the backdrop of those preaching-to-the-choir campaign ads. Or, for that matter, without Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, if you’re a Democrat.

This year more than ever, however, the traditional black voting bloc cannot be taken for granted by candidates caught in close races.

And nowhere is that unpredictability more evident than in Prince George’s County.

Here, in what one political observer calls “a Democratic bastion,” all manner of actors, charlatans, clergy and turncoats are trying to trump their opponents in the Maryland senatorial race between Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the Republican candidate, and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Democrat.

“This election is a fight for the hearts and souls of black folks, but without any real work,” said a Prince George’s political operative and observer, who asked not to be identified. “This is not just about this election, but [about] who will control the Maryland Democratic Party in the future as blacks in the county gain more political power.”

Maybe, but never in his wildest dreams did Mr. Steele imagine standing next to one black Democrat, let alone almost an entire county council, publicly announcing their support for his candidacy.

In fact, when Mr. Steele visited The Washington Times last week, and I teased him about trotting out tired boxing promoter Don King, he lamented that “there are black Democrats who support me, but they’re afraid to do it publicly.”

Well, on Monday, former Prince’s George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry, former Prince George’s County Chief of Staff Major F. Riddick Jr. and Prince George’s County Council members Samuel H. Dean, Camille Exum, Tony Knotts and Marilynn M. Bland were among those black Democratic leaders who took that bodacious step forward, much to the consternation of their party leadership.

“The party acts like when they want our opinion, they’ll give it to us,” said Mr. Curry, who loves nothing more than raising hackles. “They show us the pie, but we never get a slice,” Mr. Riddick said.

Is their support courageous or self-serving? “They are the ‘wannabes’ and the ‘has-beens,’ ” said the observer, who is supporting Mr. Cardin. His decision is based on his primary desire to see a Democratic takeover of Congress.

He added that the Curry cabal did not throw their support vigorously around former Rep. Kwesi Mfume in the Democratic primary race for the Senate, so they shouldn’t complain about the lack of diversity for statewide offices or the seeming lack of support from “the white power structure” in the party’s leadership.

The bigger question is whether the endorsements will carry much weight in the ripe, voter-rich county. Are these sudden Steele supporters going to spend their money and time campaigning, particularly in the county’s megachurches, for the Republican in these final hours, the political insider asked. Or, “Is the photo op it?” Mr. Curry, a Democrat pointed out, was not successful in his attempt to unseat County Executive Jack B. Johnson by throwing his last-minute support to challenger Rushern L. Baker III.

Another Prince George’s resident said, “Wayne and them are still mad because [former Lt. Gov.] Kathleen Kennedy Townsend put a white Republican on the ticket as her running mate [when she ran for governor] instead of one of them.” Note that Mr. Riddick was making an unsuccessful bid for county executive and Rep. Albert R. Wynn was dealing with marital issues, the political observer said. Also, the party’s leadership attempted to recruit candidates for statewide office, including Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, but he declined.

No doubt some folks will vote for Mr. Steele simply because they want another black man in the Senate with Mr. Obama. More, this observer said, have told him they are not going to vote for Mr. Steele because they “see him as Bush’s guy.” Since the Democrat defection Monday, you can’t listen to local black radio stations without hearing a black Democrat, such as Mr. Wynn, hawking Mr. Cardin, and big campaign money continues to flow into the county from both camps.

The main reason the black voting bloc no longer can be cornered is because it’s all over the place. It is hardly a blind monolith.

The other reason the black voting bloc is unpredictable is because no one knows whether this abused and often abandoned constituency will show up at the polls.

But it’s high time that black voters are rewarded for their unwavering loyalty.

The Democratic defectors in Prince George’s, regardless of their motives, sounded a necessary and ominous wake-up call. The Curry cabal’s primary worry should not be retaliation from within their party but whether Mr. Steele will remember them should he pull off an upset victory.

And, if black voters really do not want to be taken for granted any longer by either party, they will have to have to start by voting Tuesday in record numbers.

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