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"Slavishly" Remark Stirs Steele

House Minority Whip and longtime Maryland congressman Steny H. Hoyer drew criticism from Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and a black church group yesterday for his description of the Republican Senate candidate as "slavishly" following the GOP.

The remarks came Sunday at an event that Hoyer and Democratic candidate Benjamin L. Cardin held with a minority business group in Prince George's County. The remark brought little response at the time, but it was picked up by MSNBC and drew a sharp reaction from Steele, Maryland's first African American elected statewide.

After speaking to members of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce gathered in Ocean City yesterday, Steele called Hoyer's description "the height of arrogance."

"It goes to just the sheer craziness of some in the Democratic Party who think they can use racist terms and infer things about me just because I'm an African American Republican," he said.

The Rev. Anthony Evans, who heads a group called the National Black Church Initiative, released a statement last night calling Hoyer's comment "outrageous and destructive." "If I did not know Rep. Steny Hoyer, I would say that he is a racist," Evans said

Steele added that he expects his Democratic opponent Benjamin L. Cardin to "stand up and tell his team to sit down and shut up, stop the noise and apologize."

"I shouldn't have used those words," Hoyer said yesterday, through a spokesman. "If Mr. Steele did in fact take offense let me assure him that none was intended."

Cardin thanked Hoyer for addressing "this promptly and we're glad that he did."

But he also said Steele was trying to change the subject. "He's looking for every excuse he can to avoid talking about the issues," Cardin said. "He'll read anything into anything in order to not have to deal with issues."

The gaffe is the latest instance in which Steele has cried foul over racial slights. He says he is still stung by a remark five years ago from state Senate President Mike Miller who called the black Republican an "Uncle Tom" and that Hoyer called him a "token candidate" in 2002, when Steele was running for lieutenant governor. There were also reports, now disputed, of Oreos being thrown at a debate that year, implying that Steele had abandoned his race

This year, a blogger from New York City, depicted Steele in minstrel garb. And last month, a Cardin staffer was fired after writing a blog in which she described a stash of Oreos kept at the Democrat's Senate headquarters and making remarks about a black staff member and Cardin's Jewish friends.

Cardin and Steele spoke separately at the Ocean City forum on such topics as health care, Social Security and immigration.

When it was his turn to speak, Cardin asked the audience not to judge the candidates by "what you see on those 30-second ads."

His timing was no coincidence. The Steele campaign yesterday released a new commercial -- reportedly a $650 buy by the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- essentially calling Cardin a hypocrite for saying he can "change Washington," while taking campaign contributions from corporate interests, such as energy, insurance and drug companies. "Ben Cardin won't change Washington. He'll fit right in," the announcer says.

Both Steele and Cardin have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporate political action committees, records show.

Steele said the difference is he is raising money within the constraints of a campaign finance system that Cardin has done nothing to change. "Talk to me after I've cast a vote," Steele said.

Cardin responded that voters should "judge me by my record" and pointed out that Steele was the one offering to help the corporate interests in the hotel ballroom.

Steele closed his remarks by acknowledging the entrepreneurial spirit of some of the companies there, naming Pepco, Bank of America and Washington Gas among others.

"What are you prepared to do and who is going to be there to help you do it? You can count on me."

Ann Marimow

By Phyllis Jordan  |  October 18, 2006; 4:52 AM ET
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