Steele Finds Himself in a Purple Haze

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 27, 2006

Cameras rolled and clicked yesterday as Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele strolled off a Red Line Metro train at the Grosvenor-Strathmore station and took his place before the microphones.

His Democratic opponent for the U.S. Senate, the Republican said, was so out of touch with the Washington suburbs' transportation woes he couldn't even locate a proposed link in the Metro system known as the Purple Line. It was a criticism Steele raised in a televised debate the day before.

The only problem: Steele held his media event on the "need for a Purple Line" at a Metro station two stops from where the proposed line would go. It turns out that the Grosvenor-Strathmore station in North Bethesda was part of an old proposal, called the "outer line," that Maryland dropped two years ago. The only path being studied now, the "inner line," would start in downtown Bethesda -- four miles from where Steele stood.

The question of the line's route -- hotly debated in Montgomery County -- came up in a candidates' debate Wednesday in which Steele accused Baltimore area Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of paying too little attention to suburban Washington's concerns.

Quizzed by Steele about the line's termination points, Cardin sputtered "Chevy Chase," the wrong answer. Steele shot back that Cardin "has no clue" about the region's transportation issues.

Steele repeated the criticism yesterday, saying he was "quite frankly a little surprised" that Cardin, after 20 years in Congress, didn't know more about a project that would rely heavily on federal funds. A Purple Line advocate, Ben Ross of Action Committee for Transit, said Cardin "wants to build it and forgot exactly where it was going. Steele has no commitment to building it."

Asked why he held yesterday's event so far from the proposed route, Steele appeared surprised. He then said the Grosvenor-Strathmore stop was "convenient and the easiest" site for his travel schedule.

When Steele was pressed, he explained that he was going back and forth to the District. So didn't his Metro ride take him right past the downtown Bethesda Metro stop, the inner line's western end?

"This is where they told me to come . . . " Steele snapped. "I'm not trying to draw any distinction between inner and outer. I'm focused on the Purple Line." Steele was whisked away in a black SUV. Two hours later, two staff members called The Washington Post to say they chose the Grosvenor stop because Baltimore area reporters would be able to find it easily.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company