Thursday, September 21, 2006

BALTIMORE — Prominent black Democrats yesterday bucked their party to support Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele — the Republican nominee in Maryland’s U.S. Senate race.

“Like so many people who have come out today, I’m sick and tired of being taken for granted by the Democratic Party,” said William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr., a Baltimore civil rights lawyer who hosted the “Steele Democrats” event at the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center.

“I’m sick and tired of being relied upon for support but not respected as a leader,” Mr. Murphy said. “It pains me that I would stand here … today in rejection of my party’s refusal to embrace us in its leadership. But I am happy to be doing that for Michael Steele.”

A surprise for Mr. Steele came from the son of Kweisi Mfume, a past president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who lost last week’s Democratic primary to U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin.

Michael Mfume, a producer of the horror film “Ax ‘Em” and an active supporter of his father’s campaign, told reporters at the Eubie Blake center that he did not speak for his father.

“There is a saying by Billie Holiday. It goes: ‘A mother may have. A poppa may have. But God bless a child that has its own,’” he said.

A spokeswoman for Kweisi Mfume said that he did not know about his son’s plans to support Mr. Steele, who is the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland.

Kweisi Mfume, who voiced support for Mr. Cardin in his concession speech but has not actively campaigned for him, has said the Democratic “bosses” shunned his campaign in favor of Mr. Cardin’s.

“This is nothing new,” said Baltimore lawyer A. Dwight Pettit, a black Democrat at the Steele event.

He said that state party leaders rejected his run for Baltimore state’s attorney in 1978 and his nomination for U.S. attorney by President Carter in 1976 in support of white candidates.

“We are on a national stage right now in Maryland to show that if the Republican Party reaches out to African-American communities, they are not foreclosed on immediately,” he said. “The question is: What has the Democratic Party done for the African-American community?”

Mr. Steele said he wanted his campaign to bridge Maryland’s racial and political divide.

“I decided I wanted this campaign to be about something positive and uplifting: empowerment, opportunity, ownership,” he said. “That has not changed and that will not change.”

The “Steele Democrats” event followed a rally Tuesday for Mr. Cardin in Baltimore, where both candidates are vying for Mfume supporters.

Mr. Cardin’s event featured endorsements from elected black Democratic officials, many of whom backed Mr. Mfume in the primary.

Mr. Cardin, who is white, defeated Mr. Mfume 43.7 percent to 40.4 percent statewide.

But Mr. Cardin lost by tens of thousands of votes in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, two of the state’s most populated and heavily Democratic jurisdictions — both more than 65 percent black.

Mr. Steele’s potential to break the Democratic lock on black votes has made Maryland’s Senate race one of the country’s most closely watched campaigns and one of the most fiercely fought between the national parties.

Racial politics took center stage again yesterday, when Mr. Steele called on the Washington-based National Black Republican Association to pull a radio ad airing in Maryland that says Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan and says that Martin Luther King was a Republican, which some historians contest.

“It is creating a ripple of discontent, and that is not what I stand for,” Mr. Steele said.

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