GOP Fliers Apparently Were Part Of Strategy
Monday, November 13, 2006
The six Trailways motorcoaches draped in Ehrlich and Steele campaign banners rumbled down Interstate 95 just before dawn on Election Day.
On board, 300 mostly poor African Americans from Philadelphia ate doughnuts, sipped coffee and prepared to spend the day at the Maryland polls. After an early morning greeting from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s wife, Kendel, they would fan out in white vans across Prince George's County and inner-city Baltimore, armed with thousands of fliers that appeared to be designed to trick black Democrats into voting for the two Republican candidates.
The glossy fliers bore photos of black Democratic leaders on the front. Under the headline "Democratic Sample Ballot" were boxes checked in red for Ehrlich and Senate candidate Michael S. Steele, who were not identified as Republicans. Their names were followed by a long list of local Democratic candidates.
Nearly a week later, a fuller picture has emerged about how the plan to capture blacks' votes unfolded -- details that suggest the fliers, and the people paid to distribute them, were not part of a hurry-up effort but a calculated strategy.
Republican leaders have defended the Election Day episode as an accepted element of bare-knuckle politics. But for many voters, it shattered in one day the nice-guy images Ehrlich and Steele had cultivated for years.
The plan to pass out the fliers in the heavily black precincts of Baltimore and Prince George's began to form in late October, when Malik Aziz, founder of the Ex-Offenders Association of Pennsylvania, said he received a phone call.
Aziz would not say who made the call. He initially said it came from actor Charles S. Dutton, a Steele supporter, but Dutton later denied this and Aziz retracted it.
Aziz said he's had a long association with Dutton, a reformed ex-offender who rose from Baltimore's tough streets to became an acclaimed television, film and stage actor and director. "I haven't talked to Malik Aziz in months," Dutton said last week.
Aziz said the caller asked him and his wife, Antoinette, to help Ehrlich and Steele find volunteers to do "poll work."
Antoinette Aziz said she recruited 300 people, many of them homeless or ex-offenders. "They need the work," she said.
She said representatives from the Maryland campaigns went to north Philadelphia last Monday night to speak with the workers at a recreation center. Darryl Preston, 32, was there and said several well-dressed men and women asked the crowd to consider "coming down for the day to work on a political campaign."
Each worker would receive three meals and $100 and would be picked up on buses and returned to the pickup location the same day.