With conservative Republicans controlling Congress and a president and governor increasingly tilting to the right, Maryland's black legislators called yesterday for unity and greater adherence to traditional Democratic values.
"This is a time of mean-spiritedness," said Del. Joanne C. Benson, a Democrat from Prince George's County and chairwoman of the Maryland legislative Black Caucus. "We are worried about the kind of agenda we're hearing about."
More than 500 people attended a two-day conference at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel to help the 36-member caucus set its agenda for the legislative session that begins in January. The conference, which ended yesterday, was also a celebration of the group's 25th anniversary.
The lawmakers expressed concern about the potentially disastrous impact of state and federal budget cuts on their communities, and particularly on the disadvantaged.
"People are very scared of the federal cuts," said Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat. "They want to know what can be done to minimize the impact."
Conference participants criticized Gov. Parris N. Glendening for cutting aid to the disabled poor. Some wondered how the governor could offer millions of dollars and a free stadium to bring a football team to Baltimore but deny a $157 monthly stipend to someone with a medical problem.
"Our job has been made difficult by Democratic politicians who try to clone themselves after Republicans," said Sen. Decatur W. Trotter, a Prince George's Democrat. "The president and the governor have to realize you can't out-Republican a Republican."
At a prayer breakfast, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III warned of political bickering and said he hears too much criticism from blacks of black leaders, and detects a self-hatred among affluent blacks who treat poor blacks "like they were on the plantation."
"Our problem is not in Washington. Our problem is not [House Speaker Newt] Gingrich or a governor more concerned about re-election than doing what is right," said Dr. Reid, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Baltimore.
"Until we deal with the enemy within, we will never put together a plan that will liberate our people."