There's the guy who did drugs, did time and fathered a bunch of kids with a bunch of women before going straight. And there's the guy who nearly became a priest. His biggest bad-boy moment: saying some not-nice things about his homeboy, George W. Bush. Which one of these U.S. Senate candidates wins the hip-hop vote? If Russell Simmons is right, the seminary beats the street. The "Godfather of hip-hop" played political patron the other night for Michael Steele - hitching nine little letters you thought you'd never see together: Def, Jam and GOP.
"If people are willing to look past the labels and look at the issues that really affect people, there should be no surprise here," said Steele spokesman Doug Heye.
Simmons campaigned against Steele when the lieutenant governor was running on Robert Ehrlich's ticket four years ago, but they soon patched up their political differences. "They had a friend who connected them," Heye said. "They were supposed to talk for an hour, and the hour turned into two."
Having trouble imagining a gabfest between these two? After all, Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network has a list of lefty-sounding political goals: "We want the total elimination of poverty." Ditto for "racism, racial profiling, violence, hatred and bigotry." The group also calls for universal health care and an end to "repressive" practices, such as sentencing juveniles as adults.
Hardly the standard Republican playbook, but Steele is on board with the anti-poverty goal, said Ben Chavis, the former NAACP director and co-chairman, with Simmons, of the Action Network.
"Lieutenant Governor Steele has made a commitment that if he's elected to the U.S. Senate, one of the first things he intends to do is introduce legislation to end poverty in the United States," Chavis said.
Sound a bit like Ben Cardin curing cancer? Chavis assured me Steele's plan will be "very substantive."
"He's working on the details," Chavis said. "We've had some private discussions on that." Chavis said it would involve raising the minimum wage "significantly." By how much? "I would rather for him to make that announcement," Chavis said.
Heye said Steele has "consistently called for an increase in the minimum wage" but has not "outlined an amount." Ehrlich vetoed a $1-an-hour increase in Maryland's minimum wage, which went into effect anyway in February because of a General Assembly override. "Those are different things," Heye said. "In the Senate, that is federal legislation."
There is an area where the interests of hip-hoppers and Republicans more obviously jibe: business. Steele is promising to push for "wealth-building" and "economic-empowerment" measures.
"Hip-hop culture has brought a return of entrepreneurship among young people," Chavis said. "Owning their own record labels, owning their own distributorships, identifying their own intellectual property as a means of creating revenue streams. This is very healthy. There's a convergence of interests."
And Mfume -- well, he's a good guy, too
And the Senate hopeful with all that street cred? Kweisi Mfume isn't just on board with some of the Action Network's political goals. He's on its board of directors. So how come he didn't get Simmons' endorsement?
"The Democrats haven't made up their minds yet who the candidate is," said Chavis, adding, "It would be a mistake for anyone to misread [the nod] as corresponding disrespect for our board member, and our friend and colleague."
How'd Mfume take the snub? No comment from his campaign.
Chavis, by the way, stressed that Simmons' endorsement was personal, and not an official position of the nonprofit Action Network. Was Chavis personally endorsing Steele, too? He was at the fund-raiser, after all, and even spoke briefly.
"What I was doing yesterday was personally standing with Russell Simmons, who personally stood with the lieutenant governor," Chavis said. That clears that up.
Who's that guy with William Buie?
Surprised to see John Kerry weighing in on a little ol' race for Baltimore County Circuit Court judge? So was Kerry, whose office said the senator had no idea that his picture - shaking hands with candidate William Buie III - was being used in a campaign ad Buie ran in The Sun last week. Al Gore and Bill Clinton are in for the same surprise, since Buie intends to use similar grip-and-grin shots from various Democratic Party events in two more ads.
Won't voters conclude - wrongly - that Buie has some bigwig endorsements?
"I don't think they'll necessarily think that," said Buie. "But I do think they'll look at it. I mean, how can you not look at it?"
Full disclosure: Buie said he got the idea from a Sun ad rep.