Saturday, October 28, 2006

BALTIMORE — Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday made an unscheduled appearance at the NAACP state convention and criticized Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin for paying only lip service to black voters.

“I’m tired of listening to leadership that fails to deliver,” Mr. Steele, Republican nominee for senator, said after Mr. Cardin listed statistics showing inequalities for blacks, including their elevated high school dropout rate.

“I’m tired of hearing people quote statistics of our communities and over the 20 years that they have served in Congress have done nothing,” said Mr. Steele, the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland. “I’m tired of leadership that fails to lead, but blames and name calls and points fingers.”

Mr. Cardin, a 10-term congressman, later told The Washington Times the criticism would not stick to his campaign. “My record speaks for itself,” he said.

Mr. Cardin told the leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that returning a Democrat to Maryland’s Senate seat would help the party take control of the chamber and challenge President Bush’s policies.

“Mr. Steele does not like to be identified with George Bush, but he was recruited by George Bush,” he said. “He brought George Bush into Maryland for fundraising. He agrees with George Bush’s agenda.”

Mr. Steele had not been scheduled to participate in the forum, but he decided to after Mr. Cardin skipped a debate Thursday sponsored by the NAACP branch in Charles County.

Mr. Cardin has been criticized for missing the debate because the move might have offended black Southern Maryland voters, and also for stumbling and stammering through a televised debate Wednesday. Their next scheduled — and perhaps final — debate before the Nov. 7 election takes place this morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Steele blasted Mr. Cardin for helping gut the state teacher pension system as House speaker of the General Assembly, voting in Congress against prison-sentencing reform and failing to address school problems in his congressional district.

“I’ve spent an academic year taking school buses, taking classes and teaching classes in our public school system,” Mr. Steele said. “Mr. Cardin, have you visited Frederick Douglas High School, have you been to Carver High School, have you been to Fairmont Heights High School in Prince George’s County? We’ve missed you, sir.”

Green Party nominee Kevin B. Zeese and write-in candidate Lee Young also participated in the 45-minute forum. Each candidate gave an opening statement and had one minute to respond to questions from the audience.

Black voters could decide the election. They account for about 40 percent of Democratic voters in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1. Mr. Cardin has struggled to woo black voters amid criticism that the state Democratic Party blocked the candidacy of former NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume, who narrowly lost the primary despite Mr. Cardin spending about $3 million more on his campaign. Mr. Steele’s potential to break the Democratic lock on black voters has helped make his party competitive in the state for the first time in a generation.

Candidates from other Maryland races also spoke at the forum, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election, and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, the Democratic challenger.

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