An embarrassing deadlock in Arundel

It would be amusing if it were not so embarrassing: The all-male, all-white Anne Arundel County Council is deadlocked over filling a vacancy created when its only black member went off to federal prison for failing to file a tax return.

The council's chairman, Derek Fink, is a young Republican who less than a month ago said, "I think we've got a council that works together well now."

And yet this same group of six guys, led by Mr. Fink, took 100 votes and still couldn't come up with a seventh member to fill the seat previously held by the incarcerated Daryl Jones.

And along the way, Mr. Fink expressed incredulity that he might want to consider replacing Mr. Jones with someone who is also black, maintaining that thing called diversity.

It was a retired federal worker, Lewis Bracy, an African-American candidate for the Jones seat, who had the audacity to suggest such a thing.

"People in the county need to see a diverse person on the podium," Mr. Bracy said in self-advocacy.

That's when the conservative Mr. Fink did his incredulous act.

"I can't believe that today I'm being asked to vote for someone … solely on diversity," he said, as if this were a foreign or repulsive concept, and as if it might be Mr. Bracy's only qualification.

"It just blows my mind," said Mr. Fink.

Mr. Bracy countered with the kind of gratuitous attack that gets both under the skin and to the point: "When's the last time you had an African-American in your house for dinner?"

Mr. Fink's response: "I don't even have my brother over for dinner. ... It's a ridiculous question."

Very clever, Mr. Fink. But what's ridiculous is someone who thinks the matter of diversity — particularly in a body that represents a county with a 25 percent minority population, according to the 2010 census — is ridiculous.

I'd like a dollar from every reader who has worked in a corporation, or who runs a business or who operates a non-profit or does the hiring at a college or hospital — in other words, people who live in the real world — and who finds what Mr. Fink said as foolish and as offensive as I do.

It's 2012. For decades now, Americans of all political ideology have been making efforts to bring diversity to the workplace and to all realms of modern society, particularly government. I'm not talking about what's required by statute or even public policy. I'm talking about human mathematics, the measuring that all of us do in just about all that we do — the considerations that must be made in order to open doors to minorities and to make businesses, organizations and institutions more representative of the general society.

A lot of white people are annoyed by this; they hate that gender or race ever has to be a consideration in hirings or appointments. But they do it. They understand it now. They make the effort. It gets done.

The world Mr. Fink's remark suggests is something like 1959, where the chairman of an all-white government body can scoff at the expectation that he consider voting for a minority to replace a minority.

The Anne Arundel County Council narrowed its choices for Mr. Jones' replacement to two: Mike Wagner, the 70-year-old Glen Burnie businessman and former state senator, who is white, and Peter Smith, a 31-year-old Marine Corps Reserve lieutenant who works at the National Security Agency; he is black.

Three Republicans, including Derek Fink, support Mr. Wagner (and keeping the council all male and all white) while two Democrats and one Republican support Mr. Smith (and keeping the council all male with one black).

Among Republicans supporting Mr. Wagner is Dick Ladd, the councilman who made news by using an ethnic slur during the vetting of a candidate with military experience. "I was in the Vietnam War... we thought the gooks were coming," Mr. Ladd said in a jocular exchange with another council member. Mr. Ladd apologized when he learned his remark was about to make news, and that should have been the end of any controversy.

But his slip came in the midst of the larger story — the Anne Arundel County Council chairman's incredulity over diversity and his evident satisfaction in keeping this representative body all male and all white. It would be amusing if it were not so embarrassing.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of the Midday show on WYPR-FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

 

* An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Councilman Richard B. "Dick" Ladd. The Sun regrets the error.

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