Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown told a room of fellow African-American elected officials Friday that they have a "responsibility borne of expectations" to advocate for minority communities.
As a comparison, Brown said farmers in public office are expected to work on behalf of fellow farmers and military heroes are expected to champion veterans' causes.
"So too are we, as candidates and public servants of color, when we are elected to office — whether it be at the county, municipal level, the state level, or federal office — we will go to that office and champion and fight for the interests of the entire district that we represent," Brown said. "But there will be an expectation that we will promote and champion the interests of the diverse communities from which we come."
His comments came the same week a controversy arose over remarks about race made by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, Brown's chief opponent in next year's Democratic primary for governor. Asked about the relevancy of his African-American heritage, Brown has told reporters the campaign should be focused on candidates' records.
Brown's brief speech to the newly formed Diversity Caucus at the Maryland Association of Counties Conference in Ocean City was previously scheduled and served as an introduction to a keynote address by Rep. Donna Edwards. Brown's comments echoed remarks he made in a 2012 address to the National Policy Alliance.
In that speech, Brown said, "As African-American leaders, we have the unique responsibility to ensure that our service also focuses on the particular challenges and needs, hopes and dreams of the African-American community."
On Friday, Brown said elected officials should embrace that responsibility.
Supporters have celebrated Brown's campaign to succeed term-limited Gov. Martin O'Malley in part because, if successful, Brown would be Maryland's first African-American governor.
The issue of race and how candidates talk about it became a hot topic in Maryland politics this week. On Monday, The Washington Post made public a secret recording of Gansler telling supporters that Brown had not presented policy ideas and "right now, his campaign slogan is, 'Vote for me, I want to be the first African-American governor of Maryland.' "
Gansler has said his comments were taken out of context and rejected the Brown campaign's call for him to apologize. Brown said the only appropriate time to discuss race in the campaign is in the context of solving the disparities among communities.
The Diversity Caucus that Brown addressed Friday was formed about a year ago by African-American leaders from Maryland counties as a resource and sounding board for elected officials interested in minority communities.
"It's our job and our responsibility to provide a perspective to those who may have a different point of view," said Anne Arundel County Councilman Peter I. Smith, a Democrat and the caucus' first vice president.
Of Brown's comments, Smith said, "I think he nailed it. Even though people expect things from us, it's also our job, as elected leaders, to manage expectations."
Edwards, a Democrat representing Maryland's 4th Congressional District, told the group the importance of diversity cannot be overstated and encouraged them to help promote leadership in minority communities.
In 2008, she was the first African-American woman elected to the state's congressional delegation, a designation she said surprised her, given the state's history of important black figures.
"We still are experiencing so many firsts, all across the country," Edwards said, adding that demographics are continuing to shift in Maryland as minorities become a larger percentage of the population.
"The question is whether are we going to be able to embrace our diversity and make sure that in every level of leadership that that diversity is represented," she said.
twitter.com/ErinatTheSunCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun