WASHINGTON -- Courtney Harris Funn and Mary E. Fields, a couple of Maryland Democrats not normally involved in national politics, got caught up yesterday in the Bush administration's fast-moving campaign to make its case for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
Their names showed up on a list of 176 women banded together in a hastily formed group, "Women for Judge Thomas." Their recruitment into the group illustrates the close attention the administration is giving to details of its effort to make sure the public message America hears about the nominee is not just a negative one.
Using "networking" among friends and organizations, the administration is hastily assembling pro-Thomas groups and arranging pro-Thomas events.
Ms. Funn, a Baltimore native now living in Upper Marlboro, learned just last week that the new women's group was being formed. A friend, Nila Stovall, who heads a bureau with the Labor Department here and is active in Republican affairs, told her that public announcement of the group's formation was to be made yesterday, according to Ms. Funn.
The date apparently was no coincidence.
Seconds after the end of a news conference by an anti-Thomas women's group, the Women's Legal Defense Fund, another Labor Department official -- the head of the department, Secretary Lynn Martin -- stood up at a separate news conference down the hall at the National Press Club to reveal the existence of "Women for Judge Thomas."
The list of women recruited into that effort is filled with Republicanofficeholders, but it is not confined to them. It also involves a bipartisan group of women from across the nation -- including Maryland Democrats Funn and Fields.
Coincidentally, Ms. Funn works at a place named for the Supreme Court justice whom Judge Thomas would replace -- she is director of library services at the Thurgood Marshall Library at Bowie State University.
"I never ever really dreamed of having anything to do with" the Clarence Thomas nomination, Ms. Funn said.
But, she said, she agreed to let her name be used by the new organization when she got a call from Ms. Stovall, an old friend whom she said she trusts.
She is, Ms. Funn said, now definitely in favor of the Thomas nomination.
Ms. Fields, by contrast, is not that firm in her position, although she, too, accepted an invitation to be identified with "Women for Judge Thomas."
Said Ms. Fields, who heads the Office of Food and Nutrition Services in Maryland's Department of Human Resources in Baltimore: "I am not against his nomination. I am somewhere between 'for' and 'give him a chance.' "
Her involvement with the pro-Thomas organization, she said, came through her friends -- Republicans -- who are sorority sisters in Zeta Phi Beta, a black women's service sorority.
About three weeks ago, she said, the Thomas nomination came up as a topic of discussion at a legislative conference of Zeta Phi Beta here. The formation of a women-for-Thomas group was suggested at that time, and that led to a request to Ms. Fields to sign up. She did.