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Schurick takes witness stand, denies plan to suppress black vote

ElectionsJustice SystemExecutive BranchMarvin MandelMSNBC (tv network)

The embattled former campaign manager for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. took the witness stand in his own defense Friday, denying that he planned a last-minute Election Day effort last year to suppress the black vote in Baltimore and Prince George's County in a desperate push for Ehrlich to regain the governorship.

Paul Schurick, 55, testified that Ehrlich needed more — not fewer — crossover African-American voters to boost his 2010 candidacy. He said that during a July meeting, he rejected political consultant Julius Henson's strategy — laid out in what Henson called the "Schurick Doctrine" — to keep those votes down. When Henson raised the idea again soon after, Schurick said he reiterated his position that the ploy was "completely unacceptable."

Rather, he said, the campaign hired Henson to woo black crossover support. Ehrlich, a Republican, had about 15 percent of the African-American vote when he won the governor's race in 2002, but only about half that when he lost to Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, four years later. Schurick said that in the rematch, he was looking to boost that to 12 percent or 13 percent.

That would help close a projected 10,000-vote gap by adding between 3,000 and 4,000 black voters. He said he wanted a "positive outreach strategy."

By midafternoon on Election Day, the election was slipping away from Ehrlich, Schurick testified.

Schurick admitted that on Election Day, he approved the text for a "robocall," or automated telephone call, to go to voters in the heavily African-American and Democratic jurisdictions of Baltimore and Prince George's County.

Schurick told the jury that he recalled saying: "Julius, I am paying you $16,000 a month. Give me a plan." Henson did, he said.

He said that Henson pitched a robocall that Henson told him was "counterintuitive."

"He read me a proposed script, and I approved it," Schurick said. Asked by A. Dwight Pettit, his lead defense attorney, if anything in it was aimed at suppressing the vote, Schurick replied, "Absolutely not."

The call that went out before the polls closed implied that O'Malley had won and those receiving the call could stay home. The calls — one of which went to the home of Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill, the judge presiding over this case — prompted outrage.

Schurick's attorneys have contended that Henson was responsible for the call, which they say was aimed at nudging Democrats to go to the polls for Ehrlich.

Schurick, of Crownsville, is facing charges of conspiracy and election fraud in a trial that opened Tuesday and is expected to go to the jury Monday. Henson is scheduled to be tried Feb. 6.

Cross-examining Schurick, Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough contended that despite what Schurick was claiming, the math didn't work out. For every 10,000 voters targeted, if 7 percent voted for Ehrlich, Ehrlich would get 700. But his opponent would get 9,300.

He asked Schurick if the only way Ehrlich was going to win "is if the African-American vote was as low as it could be." Schurick denied that.

Earlier in the day, the defense called witnesses to attest to Schurick's integrity and honesty. They included several people from the mayoral and gubernatorial administrations of William Donald Schaefer.

Only the Rev. John A. Heath, who said he served as an adviser to Ehrlich's 2002 campaign for governor, spoke to the issue of voter suppression, saying the issue did not come up then and that the campaign strived to earn the black vote.

"The goal was always to connect with the African-American community," he told the jury.

The defense, which on Thursday called character witnesses that included MSNBC analyst and former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and former governors Marvin Mandel and Ehrlich, may call more people to vouch for Schurick's integrity on Monday. Whether State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt will call rebuttal witnesses before the jury hears closing arguments is not known.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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