Senate PresidentThomas V. Mike Miller received a rare and quite public rebuke Thursday morning from two of the chamber's African-American women after he asked a visiting international delegation to come down from the gallery and assemble on the Senate floor where senators could see them.
Miller delivered his invitation to come down after the group, which was sitting in the rear balcony where many senators could not catch a glimpse of them, was introduced by Sen. Barry Glassman, R-Harford.
The Senate president's folksy hospitality brought a swift chiding from Sen. Delores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, who scurried to the podium and hissed at Miller that he was making delegation members seem like specimens at the zoo.
Nevertheless, the group filed down and assembled in the well of the Senate, where visitors from countries ranging from Algeria to Denmark to Zimbabwe were introduced individually.
A little later, Sen.Verna Jones-Rodwell, a Baltimore Democrat, took the floor to issue a somewhat less blunt correction to the Senate chief. She recounted her experiences in traveling abroad and being treated as an object of curiosity in places where people hadn't seen a black American before.
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"Sometimes we maybe not be as sensitive as we want to be," Jones-Rodwell said. "I just hope we'll all be culturally sensitive."
While Jones-Rodwell denied the remarks were aimed at a specific person, the context suggested otherwise.
Miller, who retains some of the manners of a good old boy from Southern Maryland, apologized if anyone was offended and recounted the story of a Texas House speaker who asked a group to stand and be recognized -- not knowing they were in wheelchairs.
The rebukes came from two senators who emerged unhappily from the legislative redistricting process, in which Miller played a leading role.
Miller apparently saw a link. "There were some mistakes on reapportionment. We'll try to correct them if possible," he said.
Seeking to smooth over an awkward moment, Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, recalled that the 19th Century French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville had written that the American "charm of simplicity of manner and directness of speech" was irresistible to foreign visitors.
Raskin, by the way, emerged virtually unscathed from redistricting.