Rep. Marjorie S. Holt (R-Md.) has sparked a furor, and lost the endorsement of a Baltimore newspaper, by commenting on the problems of unemployment among inner city youth in terms that the editor of The Baltimore News American characterized as "patronizing" and "insensitive" toward blacks.
During an editorial conference with a group of News American editors and reporters last week, according to several accounts of the meeting, the six-term representative from the 4th District said that many urban youths are lacking in the type of skills needed to find employment and proceeded to mimic those who call her office and say, "Hey man, got any jobs?"
In a letter to Holt explaining the newspaper's decision not to endorse her for reelection, News American Editor James S. Toedtman wrote: " . . . unless we were terribly mistaken, your 'Hey, man, got any jobs?' characterization implied that the person was black. This patronizing portrayal of the unemployed person as black is both inaccurate . . . and insensitive to the educational discrimination and closed opportunities blacks have traditionally faced."
Holt, a conservative Republican who is heavily favored to win a seventh term Tuesday in the district that includes Anne Arundel County and parts of Prince George's and Howard counties, defended her remarks by asserting that she was merely repeating testimony by former Federal Reserve chairman Arthur F. Burns before the House budget committee some years ago.
In a statement released by her office yesterday, Holt said of the conversation at the editorial conference: "We were discussing the unemployment problems of inner-city youths. I discussed the need for job training, the need to motivate young people to stay in school and reduce the dropout rate, and the need to teach young people how to seek jobs. I also said that some young people are not seriously seeking employment and quoted something a witness Burns had told the House budget committee several years ago . . . . I do not see any racism in this."
Burns, reached by telephone in Bonn, where he is U.S. ambassador to West Germany, said he could not recall testifying before Congress in such terms. "I would never do that," he said. "It would be out of character. I don't mimic people; I respect people."
An employe of the News American who was present during Holt's meeting at the paper said that the eight or nine editors and reporters who heard her remarks, a group that included two blacks, were "dumbfounded."
The News American has editorially endorsed Holt for reelection every time she has run before this year, when the paper declined to support either her or her Democratic opponent, Howard Greenebaum. In its editorial explaining why it was making no endorsement, the paper said that it was "dismayed that a member of Congress should be as insensitive and out of touch as Mrs. Holt showed herself to be in a recent meeting with the News American editors. She expressed disdain for unemployed black Americans that carried with it an implied disregard for Baltimore city and its problems since a majority of the state's blacks live here."
The News American did not elaborate on the incident in its news pages, but Holt's remarks and Toedtman's letter to the congresswoman were reported in yesterday's Baltimore Sun. "We thought we had expressed it clearly enough in the editorial," said News American managing editor Tonnie Katz.
Greenebaum, who is considered a long shot in his bid to unseat Holt, condemned the congresswoman for her statement.
"I think that type of behavior by an elected representative is just incredible," said Greenebaum.
Carl Snowden, a black activist in Annapolis, said he had asked the editors of The Evening Capital in Annapolis and The Baltimore Sun to rescind their endorsements of Holt. The Washington Post has endorsed Greenebaum.