Mfume Backers See Opening in Senate Race
By Matthew Mosk and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
A growing number of African Americans, including activists and some elected officials, say there has been a backlash to the swift support that gathered behind Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin's candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
And that backlash, they say, may breathe new life into the campaign of the only black candidate in the Democratic primary, Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and NAACP president.
"Kweisi was the first to announce, but the party only came alive when Cardin showed up," said state Senate Majority Leader Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Baltimore). "It's caused some chagrin."
Over the past month, the perception that white leaders of the Democratic Party were conspiring to deliver Cardin the nomination has created a fresh well of support for Mfume, whose fundraising has lagged far behind Cardin's. That was evident in comments from prominent black leaders, including four of Baltimore's six state senators and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), who all recently endorsed Mfume.
Also, a group of 300 black Democrats in Montgomery County mailed a letter to 28 elected officials from their county -- all of them white -- calling their quick endorsement of Cardin hasty and inconsiderate of black constituents. The Democratic primary for the seat being vacated by Paul S. Sarbanes (D) is still nine months away.
"This is another example of how the leadership of the Democratic Party takes for granted the African American voters of Montgomery County, in particular, and the State of Maryland in general," wrote Ann De Lacy, president of the county's African American Democratic Club. "We urge you to either withdraw or to reconsider your endorsement of Mr. Cardin."
Cardin, a 10-term member of Congress and former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, disputed that claim when asked about it recently during a forum in Baltimore organized by Associated Black Charities.
"I have not been anointed," he said. "I have a record."
Some officials who received the letter took issue with its tone and message. None has agreed to reconsider an endorsement, according to De Lacy.
"I respect their opinion, but I don't agree with it," said Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), one of 15 delegates from Montgomery County who endorsed Cardin. "Ms. De Lacy is obviously as entitled as any good Democrat to her opinions and she is entitled to strong opinions, and I am entitled to mine as well."
Complaints on the part of the state's black political leadership represent the first significant public show of support for an Mfume candidacy that even the candidate acknowledged was off to a slow start.
Though first to announce his interest in the seat, in March, Mfume stumbled in the early days of his campaign. He scrambled to explain allegations of sexual harassment from his time as NAACP president. He struggled to raise money, collecting one-tenth of Cardin's take. And he was starved for support from other elected officials.