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Rawlings-Blake criticizes Trump's decision to skip Urban League conference

Baltimore mayor criticizes Donald Trump's decision to skip National Urban League conference.

The National Urban League's four-day conference in Baltimore opened Wednesday with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake saying Donald Trump's decision not to attend is an indication of how he would govern.

The organization — expected to draw 10,000 to the city and contribute $10 million to the local economy — bills the conference as the nation's largest civil rights and social justice event. Nominees for both major parties typically attend the annual conference.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will send her running mate, Tim Kaine, who will speak Thursday. The Trump campaign declined the invitation, according to the league.

Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, correlated the Republican nominee's decision with an "unwillingness to extend himself to the African-American community." The theme of the conference is "Save Our Cities;" Baltimore's population is 63 percent black.

"If you plan to be president, you should plan to be president of the entire United States and when you have a national organization of this stature and refuse to participate at this national conference, it speaks to what your priorities are moving forward," Rawlings-Blake said. "African-Americans in this country have a strong tradition, a strong history and an extremely powerful future.

"You cannot think you're going to have an inclusive country, a country that is good for all of America, without including African-Americans."

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rawlings-Blake, secretary of the Democratic National Committee, said Clinton has a long-established commitment to Baltimore and other urban areas.

"Would I have loved to see her back in Baltimore? Yes, but she's been here," Rawlings-Blake said. "She was here just a few months ago. I am grateful to the support she has shown to Baltimore over the years."

Clinton visited South Baltimore in April, using the stop to argue for more federal investment in cities.

Marc H. Morial, league president, said as recently as Tuesday the organization was in discussions with both campaigns.

The winners of the past three presidential elections attended the group's annual conference. Clinton attended last year in Florida, as did four other presidential candidates. Trump did not attend.

Morial highlighted other guests expected to participate this week, including Gov. Larry Hogan, the Rev. Al Sharpton, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and Acting U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr.

The conference also will feature a career expo, a health fair and a back-to-school rally at which 6,500 backpacks loaded with supplies will be handed out.

"We come at a difficult and challenging time in American history, but we come to re-energize," Morial said.

Morial said Rawlings-Blake recruited the conference after the death of Freddie Gray. Gray died in April 2015 after suffering a spinal cord injury in police custody. His death touched off rioting and looting.

"This will be an amazing and historic meeting for the Urban League," the mayor said. "It is the right time to be in Baltimore."

Morial is scheduled to deliver a keynote address at 7 p.m. at New Shiloh Baptist Church, the site of Gray's funeral. Most of the conference events are scheduled to be held at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Kaine will speak during the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. slot Thursday.

Events in the expo hall are free and open to the public. Most of the speakers and plenary sessions require registration.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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