By Steven T. Dennis
April 1, 2005
ANNAPOLIS – Four years after its creation, Progressive Maryland put its political power on display at the liberal advocacy group's third annual awards dinner on Wednesday.
The dinner was packed with 600 supporters and featured a passel of preening Democratic leaders.
Headlined by former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, last year's vice presidential candidate, who ticked off talking points for his presumed 2008 presidential campaign, the evening had the feel of a Democratic Party revival meeting.
"Everybody here wants to make sure we get rid of Bob Ehrlich, right?" Edwards said, before going on to talk of the need to keep Paul A. Sarbanes' U.S. Senate seat in the Democratic column.
Gubernatorial and senatorial hopefuls did not miss the chance to strut for the audience of committed activists, serving up traditional liberal red meat about sticking up for the common folk while dining on filet mignon and crab cakes.
Two of the three biggest Senate hopefuls also vied for attention at the packed new club at the Navy Stadium: former national NAACP president Kweisi Mfume and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Dist. 3) of Baltimore.
Cardin spoke against the Republicans' "reckless budgets" and raiding Social Security.
Mfume, a former Baltimore congressman, delivered a sermon on civil rights, asking, "Wouldn't it be great if all conservatives were compassionate?"
Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington sent his regards from his family vacation abroad.
The gubernatorial aspirants also got into the act.
"Progressive people of Maryland, are you ready to take back your state?" asked Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.
The mayor trotted out his tried-and-true stump stories about the girl named Amber who asked him what he's doing about "Zombieland," the drug- and crime-ridden neighborhood where she lives, and about Maryland soldiers holding the line during the Revolutionary War.
He ripped into Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) for cutting child care funding while declaring this the Year of the Child, announcing a lead paint initiative while cutting aid to city lead paint enforcement and increasing tuition, taxes and fees more in 16 months than Democratic governors did in 16 years.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan also weighed in, whacking Ehrlich on parkland sales and lavishing praise on Progressive Maryland for pushing wage raises and campaign finance reform and closing corporate loopholes.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who at times has dismissed Progressive Maryland as a fringe group while at other times embracing it, gave a spirited introduction for Edwards and called on Democrats join together to win back the governorship next year.
"It's a big tent, a very big tent," Miller (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach joked about his newfound friendliness with the group. "You've got to do what you got to do."
Progressive Maryland Executive Director Tom Hucker joked that Miller is "one of the most progressive senators – from Calvert County," but gave him kudos for fighting to keep jury trials in medical malpractice cases, fighting to force Wal-Mart to provide health insurance and raising the minimum wage.
The dinner, which raised about $60,000, also featured an award for former Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah Leggett, who is running for Montgomery County executive. Leggett was introduced by County Council President Thomas E. Perez (D-Dist. 5) of Takoma Park, who could be running for attorney general, Congress or state's attorney.
Hucker, meanwhile, denied that the dinner was intended to be partisan: Republicans and independents were invited, too. The Gazette didn't spot any.