By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Write
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele accused a leading Democratic congressman yesterday of racial insensitivity for saying the Republican candidate has "slavishly" followed the GOP.
Steele, an African American running for the U.S. Senate, was reacting to remarks by House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, who characterized Steele this week as having had "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party."
After speaking to members of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce gathered in Ocean City, Steele called the description "the height of arrogance."
"It goes to just the sheer craziness of some in the Democratic Party who think they can use racist terms and infer things about me just because I'm an African American Republican," he said.
Steele added that he expects his Democratic opponent, Benjamin L. Cardin, to "stand up and tell his team to sit down and shut up, stop the noise and apologize."
Hoyer's comments, first reported by MSNBC, came Sunday as he was introducing Cardin to a group of black business owners in Upper Marlboro, and his choice of words did not cause a visible reaction from the crowd.
"There was absolutely no offense taken or noticed," said event organizer Melvin Forbes, chief executive of Cool Wave Water. "It was obvious that Steny was simply talking about Steele's constant support for the Republican agenda."
The Rev. Anthony Evans, who heads a group called the National Black Church Initiative, released a statement last night calling Hoyer's comment "outrageous and destructive." "If I did not know Rep. Steny Hoyer, I would say that he is a racist," Evans said.
"I shouldn't have used those words," Hoyer said yesterday, through a spokesman. "If Mr. Steele did in fact take offense let me assure him that none was intended."
Cardin thanked Hoyer for addressing "this promptly, and we're glad that he did."
But he also said Steele was trying to change the subject. "He's looking for every excuse he can to avoid talking about the issues," Cardin said.
The two candidates spoke separately at the Ocean City forum on such topics as health care, Social Security and immigration.
Cardin asked the audience not to judge the candidates by "what you see on those 30-second ads."
His timing was no coincidence. The Steele campaign released a commercial yesterday -- paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- essentially calling Cardin a hypocrite for saying he can "change Washington" while taking campaign contributions from corporate interests.
Steele and Cardin have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporate political action committees, records show.
Steele said the difference is he is raising money within the constraints of a campaign finance system that Cardin has done nothing to change. "Talk to me after I've cast a vote," Steele said.
Cardin responded that voters should "judge me by my record" and said that Steele was the one offering to help the corporate interests in the hotel ballroom.
Steele closed his remarks by acknowledging some of the companies there, naming Pepco and Washington Gas, among others.
"What are you prepared to do, and who is going to be there to help you do it? You can count on me."