Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday that his private meeting last week with the state's black senators was a "cordial and productive" discussion held to devise strategies on delivering their message to Maryland's African-Americans.
The Democratic candidate for governor said the senators were not pressuring him to make appointments to his Cabinet, if he wins. He said they wanted to make sure that African-American candidates who lost in primary elections were enlisted to help the Democratic Party in the Nov. 7 election.
He said the senators wanted to make sure "that we do not take the support of black families for granted."
The Sun reported yesterday that O'Malley, U.S. Senate candidate Benjamin L. Cardin and Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman met Sept. 27 in separate, private, hourlong meetings with the black senators, who call themselves the Committee of 10. Senators who attended the meetings said they registered their concerns that the party's statewide ticket had only one black person, lieutenant governor candidate Anthony G. Brown, and none in the top four slots of governor, comptroller, attorney general and senator.
Two well-known African-American candidates -- Kweisi Mfume and Stuart O. Simms -- lost nomination races for Senate and attorney general, respectively.
The state GOP is fielding a slate that features Michael S. Steele as its Senate candidate. In 2002, Steele became Maryland's first black person elected to statewide office as lieutenant governor to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
"There are some diversity issues here that people are not happy about," Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat, told The Sun. "Turnout [among blacks] could definitely have a devastating impact" to the Democratic Party.
The mayor dismissed the notion that his party will suffer with black voters, and he said that Brown's presence on the ticket proves his commitment to diversity. An O'Malley aide said that the campaign has commissioned an audit of African-American voters to help gauge the mayor and Brown's resonance with black voters.
O'Malley said the senators wanted to know that he and Brown were committed to issues important to the black community such as minority business development and public education.
"I don't see this purported weakness," O'Malley said. "We are picking up strength all over the state." Especially, he added, in the Washington area of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, where his campaign has only recently been able to afford TV commercials.
"Increasingly African-American families are understanding the O'Malley-Brown message," he said.
Ehrlich recently launched ads on black-oriented radio stations in Prince George's County and Baltimore that some believe are an attempt to cut into O'Malley's support with African-American voters. The ad accuses the mayor of ordering his police to arrest thousands of black city residents who are never charged with crimes.
O'Malley said he does not believe that the Republicans are gaining support in the black community and that the radio spot reveals Ehrlich is employing "the politics of division and fear" that the governor "has always practiced."
"You can't teach an old dog new tricks," he said.
Ehrlich officials did not comment last night but have said the Republican ticket is offering a more diverse alternative to the Democratic Party.