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The Nose

Grant's Tune

Posted 11/1/2006

More than two years ago, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele bestowed $250,000 in taxpayer money on four nonprofits. The money came from a discrimination settlement with Monumental Life Insurance Co. brokered by the Maryland Insurance Commission.

Instead of putting the cash into the state's general fund, Alfred Redmer, the insurance commissioner at that time, asked Steele who he should give the money to. As reported by The Sun in March, Steele named four organizations: the Coppin State University Development Foundation, which got $50,000; the Bowie State University Foundation, which got the same; the Greater Baltimore Urban League, which received $100,000; and Global Developmental Services for Youth Inc., which got the final $50,000. That charity, which appears to exist to take children and teenagers to places where they can meet black celebrities and dignitaries, is owned and operated by Eugene Grant, now the mayor of Seat Pleasant, in Prince George's County.

Each charity got a letter from Redmer explaining that Steele was its benefactor.

The gifts were criticized, predictably, by carping liberals. "It's clearly not appropriate for the lieutenant governor to use this as a political slush fund and be doling it out to politically important constituents," Mary Boyle, press secretary for Common Cause in Washington, told The Sun. Liberals--such carpers they are.

The recipients gave Steele's campaigns more than $13,000 around the time of their Monumental windfalls, The Sun reported in a follow-up. This brought a rebuke from the Steele camp. "It is insulting that these community leaders who chose to support the lieutenant governor and his vision for change are having their motivations questioned," Steele spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said, according to The Sun.

Since that time, Mayor Grant, a Democrat, has endorsed Steele for U.S. Senate. And his endorsement has been repeatedly noted Seatand quoted by mainstream newspapers, which don't mention the $50,000.

Grant has said that he endorsed Steele in reaction to "the disrespect of the Democratic Party toward African-Americans," according to an Oct. 19 commentary by Jonathan Tilove of Newhouse News Service.

The Washington Post took note in an Oct. 17 story, which credited "the attention [Steele] paid to municipalities" for Mayor Grant's endorsement (Ehrlich also gave Seat Pleasant, population 4,000, $75,000 and a new traffic signal).

On Oct. 6, USA Today related the endorsement like this: "Steele won his first endorsement from an elected black Democrat on Tuesday. Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant said he agrees with Steele on some issues and has found him responsive as a state official. He also said Maryland Democrats have `long ignored' blacks."

Indeed, only The Sun itself mentioned Grant's grant when noticing his Steele endorsement.

That Grant's support for Steele might be more explicitly tied to the moolah Steele has bestowed on him was not hard to discern, however. A July 16, 2006 piece in the Salisbury Daily Times covered a forum of the African American Economic Development Committee at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, in Princess Anne. Grant introduced Steele to the forum in a "down-home preaching style," the Daily Times reporter wrote, and--while not explicitly endorsing Steele's Senate candidacy--made it clear where his allegiance lies.

"Let's get this Democrat and Republican thing out of the way; this is not a campaign rally," Grant said, according to The Daily Times. "It's not about [Steele]; it's about you and the $26 billion [in his] control. We expect some of that $26 billion to come back around here."

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