Md. Black Leaders Aim to Hold Elected Officials Accountable

By David J. Silverman
Capital News Service

BALTIMORE - A group of African American leaders representing churches, business and politics joined forces Friday to unveil a six-point plan to address the needs of Maryland's black community and pledge to hold the state's elected officials accountable for meeting them.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, said that the slogan of the group, to be known as the Strategic Alliance, will be "empowerment and accountability."

"It's one thing to come to church and wave at everyone," said Cummings of candidates seeking black votes this fall. "The question is, what are they going to do [after being elected]. Are you going to act in the best interests of the community?"

The initiative comes against a backdrop of barely disguised unhappiness among black Democrats in Maryland that there is no African American candidate at the top of the party's statewide ticket. The Republicans have nominated an African American, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, as their candidate for U.S. Senate.

More than 30 members of the alliance stood with Cummings to announce the plan Friday afternoon at the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore. The alliance says its goal is to engender opportunity and minimize obstacles in education, housing, social justice, transportation, health care and economic development.

Over the next couple of weeks, the alliance says it will use the plan to survey candidates running for statewide office in the Nov. 7 elections, including candidates for governor, U.S. Senate, comptroller and attorney general.

"This agenda and group will serve as a first step in fostering opportunities, tackling the challenges outlined, and effectively influencing change regarding issues that have been persisting in our community," said Bishop Walter S. Thomas, Sr., presiding prelate of the Kingdom Association of Covenant Pastors

Speakers said that all partners had a key role to play to foster improvement.

"Our religious leaders must continue to galvanize the community to get and stay involved," said state Sen. Verna L. Jones, a West Baltimore Democrat who serves as chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. "Our business leaders must continue to use their influence to create environments where we all can succeed and the economy grow. And, the elected officials must construct appropriate public policies and opportunities that will help to improve the quality of life in the communities we serve."

Alliance members said they plan to affect changes by participating in and sponsoring events that draw attention to the needs and desires of the community.

On Saturday, Cummings is due to join Bishop Thomas at an education conference at Maryland Institute College of Art Brown Center. The conference will focus on developing strategies to better prepare Baltimore students for college, work and life, according to the alliance. "African Americans have made countless contributions to the prosperity of Maryland it is critical that during this election season and beyond that the needs of our community are earnestly addressed," Cummings said.

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