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Steele weighs in on the Oreo incident


Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele offered a revised account yesterday of his experience at a 2002 gubernatorial debate where Oreo cookies were reportedly distributed as a racial insult.

Steele told the Associated Press that cookies were thrown in his general direction as he left the debate at Morgan State University, where he was a member of the audience.

"They fell on the floor; two rolled up next to my shoe," Steele said. "I remember turning to someone and saying, 'Anyone got a glass of milk?'"

The latest version of the story differs significantly from one offered last week by Paul S. Schurick, communications director for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., in response to questions about the veracity of the incident. Various versions have been given over the past three years, but some Democrats question whether cookies were actually tossed.

Schurick said supporters of former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend threw cookies at Steele when he entered the Murphy Fine Arts Building about 15 minutes before the start of the debate. Black on the outside and white inside, Oreos can be viewed as an insult against African-Americans perceived as abandoning their roots and community and aligning themselves with whites.

"It was raining Oreos," Schurick said. "They were thick in the air like locusts. I was there. It was very real. It wasn't subtle."

News reports from the night of the Sept. 26 debate make no mention of cookies. The first reference came five days later in an article in The Sun in which Schurick, then a spokesman for the Ehrlich campaign, said cookies were distributed in the audience.

In November 2002, Capital News Service reported that Steele said an Oreo rolled to his feet during the debate.

The story has received heightened scrutiny in recent days, as Republicans have criticized Democrats for tolerating racial slights against Steele, a candidate for U.S. Senate.

On a Saturday radio program, Ehrlich said he was angry that political opponents were engaging in "revisionism" about the story. He repeated his frustration last night at a fundraiser in Annapolis: "Revisionism is real ugly," Ehrlich said. The governor repeated yesterday that his father was hit in the head with a cookie when he walked to his seat.

Several audience members who attended the debate have told The Sun that they saw no cookies.

"It didn't happen here," said Vander Harris, operations manager of the Morgan fine arts center. "I was in on the cleanup, and we found no cookies or anything else abnormal."

Sun reporter Andrew A. Green and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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