Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said black Democratic leaders who call racially tinged attacks on him fair game because he is a conservative Republican have exposed themselves as racists and cast shame upon the state.
“I think it diminishes their leadership,” Mr. Steele said in an interview. “But most importantly, I think it embarrasses our state to have elected officials speak in those terms. Marylanders now have a sense of the content of their character, because that is what [Martin Luther King] wanted us to judge each other by, and that’s enough for me.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Steele voiced support for affirmative action and the war in Iraq. He also expressed offense that black Democrats would accept branding him an “Oreo cookie” or an “Uncle Tom” because his campaign for the U.S. Senate espouses a message of personal responsibility and individual empowerment.
The lieutenant governor, who is the first black man elected to statewide office in Maryland, said he bristled at a report in The Times on Wednesday that several black Democratic lawmakers condoned racial attacks against Mr. Steele because his political positions do not reflect those of the black community.
“Party trumps race, especially on the national level,” said state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a black Baltimore Democrat. “It’s democracy, perhaps at its worst, but it is democracy.”