By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
A coalition of black Democratic political leaders from Prince George's County led by former county executive Wayne K. Curry endorsed Republican Michael S. Steele's bid for the U.S. Senate yesterday.
The support from Curry, five County Council members and others barely a week before Election Day reflects their continued disappointment that the Democratic Party has no African American candidates at the top of the ticket and a sense that the county is being ignored, officials said.
"They show us a pie, but we never get a slice," said Major F. Riddick Jr., a former aide to then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening and a former county executive candidate. "We are here today to say we've waited and we've waited and we're waiting no longer."
Steele, who as lieutenant governor is the first African American elected statewide in Maryland, said he was humbled by the support. "I said I did not want this [campaign] to be so much about party but about the people," he said. "And these people understand that."
Ron Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, said the endorsements could be significant. "This is going to go through the black community like a rocket," he said. "It's going to be the talk of the county, the state, maybe even the nation."
Oren Shur, a spokesman for the Democratic Senate candidate, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, was more skeptical. "The endorsements will not make Prince George's County residents forget that Michael Steele is George W. Bush's handpicked candidate," he said.
The politicians were joined at a news conference in Largo by about a half-dozen business leaders, including Ron Lipscomb, a trustee of the state Democratic Party.
All said they are lifelong Democrats who do not agree with some of Steele's stances but are not in lock step with the Democratic Party, either.
"The party acts as though when they want our opinion they'll give it to us," said Curry, Prince George's first black county executive. "It will not be like that anymore."
He noted that support for a Republican is not unprecedented: In 2002, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend picked a GOP running mate in her gubernatorial bid, passing over a black candidate.
This year, Democratic contender Martin O'Malley is running with an African American from Prince George's County, Del. Anthony Brown. But black Democrats who ran for the U.S. Senate and state attorney general lost in the primary.
Curry would not answer questions about Brown, but he said the state Democratic Party had "trivialized" Prince George's, though it provides the "mother lode of votes in the state of Maryland."
Terry Lierman, state Democratic chairman, said there is plenty of diversity in the party. "They are trying to make an issue out of something that doesn't exist," he said.
According to a recent Washington Post poll, Steele trailed Cardin by 11 percentage points. The lieutenant governor has support from only 14 percent of black voters, despite an aggressive bid for their support, the poll shows.
During the primary, Curry's endorsement gave Rushern L. Baker III a boost in his unsuccessful bid for county executive. Steele is hoping Curry will do the same for him among black Democrats.
Walters said the Prince George's politicians made an "audacious" move by putting local interests above national ones since a Steele victory could keep the Senate in Republican hands.
Curry said the decision to endorse the lieutenant governor was about dignity and respect and an opportunity to back a "good man with a good plan."
Curry said he disagrees with Steele on several issues but supports his plans for equity in business opportunities, economic development and improved schools.
Prince George's council member David Harrington (D-Cheverly) said he was comfortable supporting Steele. "It's a way to say, 'Don't leave Prince George's out, and don't leave African Americans out,' " he said.
Harrington said race is a factor for him. "It's not the factor," he said, "but it is a factor. There needs to be a diversity of voices in the room."
In addition to Harrington, the council members backing Steele are Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant), Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) and Marilynn Bland (D-Clinton).