Monday, August 18, 2003

Two groups of predominantly black ministers in Baltimore have excluded white mayoral candidates — including incumbent Martin O’Malley — from the groups’ Democratic primary forums, The Washington Times has learned.

The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the city’s largest faith-based activist organization, and the Baptist Ministers’ Conference did not invite Mr. O’Malley and longtime social activist A. Robert Kaufman to participate in two separate forums last month.

The Rev. Russell Johnson, president of the Baptist Ministers’ Conference and pastor of Browns Memorial Baptist Church, said his group’s July 14 forum “was only for black candidates.” “No one else asked even to be heard by the conference anyway,” Mr. Johnson said.

The Rev. Gregory Perkins, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and pastor of Saint Paul Community Baptist Church, said all of the candidates were notified of his group’s July 31 forum. “Those who had e-mail were invited,” he said. “Why we did it that way was because we did not have time to put them in the mail.”

There are five candidates running for mayor, two white and three black. The city’s primary is Sept. 9. The general election takes place 14 months later, on Nov. 2, 2004, under a 1999 referendum that moved local elections to a presidential election year.

When asked whether Mr. O’Malley knew about the forums, Kimberlin L. Love, a campaign spokeswoman, said the two groups never contacted his campaign headquarters.

“We have not received anything about these two events,” Miss Love said. “We don’t know why, but the mayor wasn’t invited.”

When asked why Mr. O’Malley wasn’t advised of the group’s forum, Mr. Johnson said the mayor should have asked him about it last week when he visited Mr. Johnson’s congregation.

“If he wanted to know [why he wasnt invited], he could have asked me last Sunday,” Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Perkins explained the absences differently. “Maybe [the invitations] got lost or someone decided it was not worth attending,” he said of his group’s e-mailed invitations.

Miss Love said Mr. O’Malley works with the same ministers on key youth programs. “He has a very good relationship with the ministers here in the city,” she said. Miss Love said she hoped the groups would invite the mayor to future forums.

Mr. O’Malley has recently been criticized by his opponents for dodging political forums and debates against his lesser-known rivals in the primary. The mayor had been invited to at least 24 events, but his campaign officials said he couldn’t attend all of them because of his schedule.

Mr. O’Malley, however, has agreed to participate in three candidate forums before the primary election. He is scheduled to appear at events sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the League of Women Voters and two public radio stations.

Mr. Kaufman said he didn’t know why he or Mr. O’Malley were excluded from the two recent forums.

“I doubt very much that the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance or the Baptist Ministers’ Conference as a whole got together and said let’s keep the [whites] out,” he said. “But this should not have happened, and unless someone raises a stink the injustice will continue.”

The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance’s forum took place at Trinity Baptist Church in Baltimore. The Baptist Ministers’ Conference’s gathering was held at New Shiloh Baptist Church, also in Baltimore.

Andrey Bundley, who is black and the most prominent Democratic challenger in the primary against Mr. O’Malley, was invited to attend both forums, which he did.

“The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Baptist Ministers’ Conference are no different than all the other invitations that we have received,” said Julius Henson, Mr. Bundley’s campaign general consultant. “We go to them and ask for their support.”

Mr. Henson said his campaign managers would not have sought endorsements of either organization if they had known that white candidates had been excluded. “We believe that every candidate that is running in an election should be heard,” he said.

Other black Democratic candidates Charles U. Smith and Marvin R. Jones could not be reached for comment. It could not be determined by press time whether they attended the forums.

The latest snubs are in stark contrast to the praises Mr. O’Malley, 40, received since he took office four years ago. Just last year, he was dubbed by Esquire magazine as one of “the best and brightest” in politics, culture and science.

In 1999, Mr. O’Malley soundly defeated Republican David Tufaro to become the city’s first elected white mayor since state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer held the office from 1971 to 1986. Mr. O’Malley won 91 percent of the vote in the mayoral race.

In the Democratic primary election that year, Mr. O’Malley beat out Carl Stokes and Lawrence Bell, both black men. He won 53 percent of the vote and 30 percent of the black vote. Blacks make up 63 percent of Baltimore’s population.

With a current job approval rate in the 60s, the former councilman and son-in-law of Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran was also said by Esquire to be “a possible future presidential candidate with the charisma of President John F. Kennedy.”

Although he has declined to discuss whether he will run against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, in 2006, Mr. O’Malley told the Baltimore Sun in May 1997 that he wouldn’t discount anything.

“I’ve been asked by reporters: ‘Some people say you’d like to be police commissioner, some people say you’re running for state’s attorney, some people say you’re running for Congress,’” he told the Sun. “I’d like to be all those things, and I’d like to be governor, too.”

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