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THE BALTIMORE SUN |
| SATURDAY, JUNE 18, 2011
Scandal may be Democrats’ ammo
But some blacks say controversy over misleading Nov. robocalls is overblown
By Annie Linskey |
THE BALTIMORE SUN
The Ehrlich campaign’s alleged effort to keep blacks from voting last November could have the opposite effect for years to come, according to political observers who said indictments over the automated phone calls would become election-season fodder for Democrats. Tantalizing details suggesting an organized strategy of black voter suppression emerged Thursday when Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s campaign manager and political consultant were charged with violating election laws. The details filled out a narrative that the Democratic Party went to great pains in November to promote: Maryland Republicans are dirty tricksters. At a news conference then, Maryland’s top Democrats, including Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, rehashed a series of election episodes such as busloads of homeless Philadelphians being recruited to hand out misleading campaign fliers in 2006. The robocalls and ensuing court case against Paul Schurick and Julius Henson will be added to that list, several predicted. “It will be a turnout tool,” predicted Steve Raabe, the president of OpinionWorks, a Maryland polling firm. “It will be a rallying cry in the African-American community .” Political observers said details of the case — such as an Ehrlich campaign memo that uses the words “voter sup-
pression,” according to court papers — will deepen distrust between black voters and Republicans. And it will give African-Americans more reason to vote. Among the other details: A campaign memo titled “The Schurick Doctrine” and apparently named after Ehrlich’s campaign manager outlined a strategy to promote “confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats,” according to court papers. The memo targeted 472 precincts for “voter suppression” operations as Ehrlich sought to unseat Gov Martin . O’Malley It was presented to top Ehrlich campaign staff. ers over the summer and rejected because of cost, according to court papers. But state prosecutors allege that part of the program was revived on Election Day as Ehrlich slipped in unofficial exit polls, and a hastily recorded robocall was sent to more than 112,000 voters in Prince George’s County and Baltimore. The call told voters to “relax” because O’Malley had already won. “The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight,” the caller said. In fact, polling places were still open. Reaction in Baltimore was swift and angry Friday said , radio talk-show host Larry Young, who spent two hours discussing the indictments on the air. “[Henson] was trying to play them,” Young said, describing why his mostly African-American listeners were upset by details of the indictments. There’s evidence, though, that the incident and its aftermath could make voters skeptical of all politicians. Edith Curry a black voter in Baltimore County said , , she considers the whole matter “vulgar” and will be “cautious” before voting for anyone — regardless of party .
Thomas Young, a black voter in Prince George’s County said details from the indictment reinforce his , view that each candidate must be assessed on his or her own strengths. “I want to deal more with the individual” and not the party he said. , And some African-Americans complained that state and federal officials seemed to be tripping over themselves to condemn the robocalls. Del. Dereck E. Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat, said the notion that blacks would be fooled by the calls “is getting close to being offensive.” Davis described the calls as “sophomoric.” All the attention given to the matter — with state, federal and congressional probes announced — feels “almost paternalistic,” he said. “I think we’re going over the top with all of this. Politics is a rough-and-tumble sport.” Davis said, while stressing that he does not condone the robocalls or plans described in the indictment. He pointed to the results: Ehrlich lost to O’Malley by more than 14 percentage points. In Prince George’s, 27,000 more people voted for O’Malley in 2010 than in 2006. “I think we need to maintain perspective and respect the intelligence of the so-called victims,” Davis said. Some voters agreed. Charles Yates of Westminster, an African-American lawyer, said the sloppiness of the calls insulted him. “It confirms that there are people who have this racist view that black people are idiots,” he said. The call’s script was so simplistic and so easy to identify as a fraud that it was “like a joke.” email@example.com twitter .com/annielinskey
Grand jury wants to have a talk with journalists
Request for information on coverage causes stir among news media
By Tricia Bishop |
THE BALTIMORE SUN
The cryptic email went out this week to some of the region’s news media — including WMAR-TV and The Baltimore Sun — asking journalists to appear before the city’s grand jury which plans to spend the next few months ana, lyzing the impact of crime coverage on efforts to end violence. It’s a sort of term project squeezed in between criminal indictments, and a decades-old tradition for the panel. In addition to evaluating state’s evidence, the 23 grand jurors in the city also examine a social issue during their fourmonth tenure and make recommendations for change. But the latest proposal is causing a stir among some of the grand jury’s subjects before the project has even begun. “We’re contacting our lawyer because it’s very weird,” said Kelly Groft, news director for WMAR-TV “We cover . [grand juries]; we’re not in them.” The Sun, too, is studying the issue. “It’s an unusual request, and we’re looking into it,” said Triffon G. Alatzas, the paper’s head of digital media and one of its top editors. Reporters typically seek information from the government, not the other way around. And juries in particular can make the breed nervous, bringing to mind images of jailed journalists who refuse to reveal a story’s source. “No. Uh-uh, you don’t want to do this,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “There are too many things that you can’t control. You have no idea what they’re going to ask or what they’re going to [do with the information]. It’s a risky proposition on so many levels.” The two-paragraph email was sent Wednesday to two editors at The Sun by Jury Commissioner Nancy M. Dennis. It talked about the “Grand Jury’s inquiries” and an interest “in meeting with the local news director and crime reporter” to “learn how decisions are made to select stories … and how the stories are presented.” “I sent it to all of the media outlets, the same questions,” Dennis said during a follow-up phone call Thursday She . said there are no plans to issue subpoenas. “This is informational, and their discussion with you is not under oath or anything. It’ s a conversation,” Dennis said. “This is not unusual. Each term gets a charge to examine a public [issue].” The city’s grand jury has previously studied violence in schools, public confidence in police, drug abuse and prison health care. It issues a report at the end of the term and often offers recommendations for officials to act upon. In 1896, for example, one grand jury suggested that a neglected prison whipping post should be put back into regular use to reduce “cases of wife beating.” This time, the topic is the media, “so that citizens can have a better understanding how stories are run and how [they’re] selected,” Dennis said, referring further questions to Baltimore Circuit Judge Kendra Y. Ausby who gave , the jury its assignment this term, which began in May . Ausby did not return a call asking for details about the charge or the impetus behind it. “My knee-jerk reaction is that government ought to be government and journalists ought to be journalists. You really shouldn’t be an extension of crime fighting,” said Ben Holden, a lawyer and former reporter who now directs the Donald W Reynolds National Center for Courts and . Media at the University of Nevada in Reno. Serving on the grand jury would be fine, he said, as would discussing the same topics with a college class or committee. But doing it as part of a government inquiry for an official report makes him squeamish. “It’s a slippery slope down which we should not go,” Holden said. Maryland’s grand juries are private by design, and members take an oath of secrecy They are tasked with evaluat. ing evidence in cases to see if charges are warranted and can also launch independent investigations as they see fit. They have the power to compel testimony from high places in deciding whether to indict. “Grand juries are secret bodies, and we’re not in the creating-secrets business,” said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. But he thought any criticism was overblown and counterproductive, given the presumed good intentions of the grand jury . “If you refuse to participate, you [could be] actually damaging your reputation in the community because it looks like you’re not a good citizen,” he said. “We can’t look like hypocrites when we say we’re in the business of serving the public good.” firstname.lastname@example.org
JOE SORIERO/BALTIMORE SUN PHOTO
See you in the fall
It’s good to be out, but hard to say goodbye. A group of friends join for a hug on the last day of school at Baltimore’s Hampstead Hill Academy, a public charter school.
RUTH M. KIRK 1930-2011
Delegate served the 44th for 28 years
By Jessica Anderson
THE BALTIMORE SUN
Ruth M. Kirk, a former state delegate who served West Baltimore for 28 years, has died, city officials said Friday evening. Kirk, 81, who was born in Baltimore, represented the 44th District from 1983 until this past January . Her seven terms ended when she lost to Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. last fall. “She was a tireless advocate for the neighborhoods she served, and dedicated herself to strong and thoughtful constituent service,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “Ruth was particularly engaged and helpful addressing the issues that affect low-income families and seniors in Baltimore. She will be missed greatly
by me, my colleagues at City Hall and very much by the citizens of the 44th District.” As a state delegate, Kirk served on the Governor’s Council on Adolescent Pregnancy, the State Commission on Neighborhoods and the Advisory Council on Offender Employment Coordination, among other panels. She also held numerous positions in the community including a stint on the board of direc, tors for Meals on Wheels. “Del. Kirk was a longtime state legislator who spent nearly three decades working to improve the lives of countless Baltimoreans, leaving an indelible mark on her beloved City of Baltimore along the way Baltimore City ,” Council President Bernard “Jack” Young said in a statement. email@example.com
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