- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

Black business owners and religious leaders say there is an undercurrent of discontent with the Maryland Democratic Party’s lack of black statewide candidates and think it will encourage support for Republicans — especially Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s run for the U.S. Senate.

“There’s a lot of nervousness. You got a whole lot of black folks who are going to move towards Steele and possibly [Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.],” said Wayne Frazier, a black business leader in Baltimore and a supporter of Mr. Steele’s opponent, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin.

The Rev. Grainger Browning Jr., pastor of the 10,000 member Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Fort Washington, said: “The Democratic Party does have a challenge now to show that it wants to make sure the African-American leadership is included in decision making.”

The Baltimore Sun yesterday reported that Maryland’s 10 black state senators met last week with Mr. Cardin and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, the Democratic nominee for governor, to register complaints that the party’s top candidates for statewide office are white men.

The black senators, dubbed the “Committee of Ten,” told Mr. Cardin and Mr. O’Malley, who are both white, that they are hearing about discontent among their constituents over the party’s lack of diversity.

The group also met with Terry Lierman, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party.

“There’s a hue and cry out there of disillusionment based on what happened in the primary,” said state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat.

In the Democratic Senate primary, Mr. Cardin defeated Kweisi Mfume, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, after having received strong support from House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer and state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., both white.

However, Mr. Mfume trounced Mr. Cardin in the majority black voting districts of Prince George’s County and Baltimore, which will figure large in next month’s general elections.

Mr. Mfume got 74,637 votes in Prince George’s County, compared to Mr. Cardin’s 19,824 votes, according to the State Board of Elections. In Baltimore, Mr. Mfume won 52,335 votes and Mr. Cardin 25,051.

The Democratic nominees for the state’s four top races — the Senate, governor, attorney general and comptroller — are all white men. Mr. O’Malley’s running mate, Delegate Anthony G. Brown of Prince George’s County, is black.

“I feel strongly that we in the Democratic Party should have had an African-American running for one of the statewide positions,” said Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George’s County Democrat who supported Mr. Cardin over Mr. Mfume.

Mr. Currie blamed a lack of discipline in the Democratic Party for its lack of diversity among the top nominees, noting that “the Republican Party made the decision at the national level that they wanted Michael Steele to run for the U.S. Senate.”

Mr. Steele in 2002 became the first black in Maryland to win a statewide election.

Mr. Browning said that Mr. Steele has “strong appeal” because he is black and personable but Mr. Cardin’s views are more in line with most black voters.

Still “there is a concern [among Democrats] that Steele is gaining momentum,” Mr. Frazier said. “It’s shocking. I never thought it would be like this.”

The Republican Party boasts Mr. Steele in the Senate race and two women in other top contests — Anne McCarthy for comptroller and Disabilities Secretary Kristen Cox for lieutenant governor.

Last week at a Cardin rally, Mr. Mfume publicly criticized the Democrats for their lack of diversity, saying, “We have a problem.”

“We need to unify the Democratic Party,” Mrs. Conway said. “That’s what the meeting was called for.”

But state Sen. Nathaniel Exum, Prince George’s Democrat, said he felt the meeting was unproductive and that white Democratic leaders are not listening.

“They don’t take us serious. We’re the most loyal constituency, and they don’t take us serious. They have never done anything, and they pay us lip service,” Mr. Exum said. “We’ll have to see how it plays out.”

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