Makes History as First Black Lt. Governor|
By Phillip Caston
Capital News Service
Friday, Nov. 22, 2002
ANNAPOLIS - If Michael Steele runs for governor sometime in the future,
don't vote for him because he's black.
That's not what he wants.
Michael Steele's Bio
Born: Oct. 19, 1958
Birthplace: Prince George's County
Family: Wife, Andrea; sons, Michael II and Drew
Education: Bachelor's degree in international relations, Johns
Hopkins University; juris doctorate, Georgetown University
Professional experience: Associate at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen &
Hamilton Law Offices, Washington, D.C.; paralegal at Hunton & Williams
Law Offices, Washington, D.C.
Leadership experience: Chairman of the Maryland Republican Party,
2000-02; chairman of Republican Central Committee for Prince George's
County, 1994-2000; board of trustees member, Johns Hopkins University,
1981-85; student body president, Johns Hopkins University.
"That would cheapen it," said Steele, who will become Maryland's first
black lieutenant governor on Jan. 15. "Don't give it to me just because I'm
a black man."
The color of Steele's skin is hardly his most notable feature. The
6-foot- plus former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party towers over
his colleagues, reporters and constituents.
However, just because Steele stands out in the crowd for other reasons
than skin color doesn't mean he's not in touch with Maryland's
When African-American voters asked the Rev. John Heath about Steele
during the gubernatorial race, he gave them a signal.
"I told them he's a brother," said Heath, community affairs liaison at
Coppin State College and former black Republican candidate for House of
Delegates. "In my community, that's a code word for 'he understands the
black community.' "
"I know the issues that are important to black people in the state. I
bring that voice to those people," Steele said. "What African-American has
had direct influence on Gov. Parris Glendening in the past eight years?"
Gov.-Elect Bob Ehrlich and Steele's victory, however, is not a victory
for the state's black population in terms of issues, said David Paulson,
spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party.
"It's less important that he made history, but rather more important what
he does when it's time to make policy," said Paulson.
Heath knew from the time Ehrlich chose Steele as his running mate, it
would have enormous implications for the state's African-American community.
"Michael's impact hits so many areas as a Republican and as an African-
American," said Heath. "He opens up a door that says, 'Hey, we can access,
we can make a difference, we can be in positions of power.' "
Steele's new job is a sign of things to come, said Paul Ellington,
executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.
"It shows everyone, not just African-Americans, but all minorities, that
Republicans can win in Maryland," said Ellington. "It opens up the halls of
power in Annapolis to African-Americans."
The Prince George's County native is no stranger to leadership. In
addition to serving as chairman of the Maryland GOP from 2000-2002, Steele
was chairman of the Prince George's Republican Central Committee from
1994-2000. He also served on the board of trustees at his undergraduate alma
mater, Johns Hopkins University, from 1981-85.
Steele has his law degree from Georgetown University.
Ehrlich's choosing of Steele was not without criticism. The campaign of
Democratic rival Kathleen Kennedy Townsend accused Ehrlich of not being in
touch with Maryland's black community. Murmurs of Ehrlich choosing Steele to
"lure" black voters circulated quietly among state Democrats.
Others labeled Steele a token addition to the Ehrlich campaign. In its
editorial endorsement of Townsend, The Baltimore Sun said Steele "brings
little to the team but the color of his skin."
"The thought that they could only see me as 'just a black man' was
insulting," Steele said. "It showed a failure to understand the diversity of
Criticism of Steele by black Democrats echo those of black Democrats
nationwide who have a tendency to turn on black Republicans, Heath said,
labeling them as traitors.
"What we have now is a situation where people don't know history," Heath
said. "It was the Democrats who kept Jim Crow laws. Every advancement
African- Americans have made, a Republican had to be there to help."
Many in the black community, Steele said, are joining the party as
"progressive conservatives," or rather people who want change but maintain
traditional family values.
"If our party ever gets it together, and we will, we'll realize the power
of our message to attract blacks, Hispanics, women and other minorities," he
At the candidates' only televised debate in late September, there were
reports that Townsend supporters passed out Oreo cookies to represent
Steele, joking he was black on the outside but white in the middle.
Paulson denied the incident happened and said the only documented
accusation came from Ehrlich spokesman Paul Schurick.
Steele, however, said an Oreo cookie rolled to his feet during the
"Maybe it was just someone having their snack, but it was there," Steele
said. "If it happened, shame on them if they are that immature and that
threatened by me."
But issues of race weren't the only topics for which Steele came under
fire. While running on the GOP ticket, the Maryland Republican Party paid
him $5,000 a month in consulting fees. However, Steele had already been
doing the same work for no charge before joining Ehrlich's campaign, and
there is no salary for the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.
Steele, however, said he still had a job to do just like Ehrlich and
"The bottom line is that it was not unethical, it was not illegal and it
was not immoral," said Steele, who said he checked with the Republican
Party's lawyers before accepting the money.
The title "first black" isn't an unfamiliar one for Steele.
He was the only African-American GOP chairman in America when elected to
the position in 2000.
And he's not worried about working with black, or any other, Democrats,
even though they dominate General Assembly.
"There will be fights, and some of them will be partisan. That's the
sport," Steele said. "But we're willing to work together to make Maryland
Steele will focus on issues concerning blacks in Maryland such as crime,
economics and development in their communities. He criticized the Glendening
administration for not working hard enough to alleviate crime problems in
the state's African-American communities.
Success as a lieutenant governor may make the concept of a black
governor more of a reality. That a black governor could be a Republican is
just another sign of the progression of the party, Steele said.
"It's not an easy transition. A lot of people don't want (black
Republicans) in power. A lot of people didn't want me to be lieutenant
governor and, to be honest, there were people who didn't want me to be head
of the Maryland Republican Party," Steele said. "I try to meet those
challenges head on."
2002 University of Maryland College of
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