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Md.'s Lieutenant Gov. Stands Up Legislative Black Caucus

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (search) skipped an appearance at a Legislative Black Caucus event Friday to stump on the Eastern Shore, a decision that some members accepted as part of the campaign season, but others saw as a snub.

This weekend marked the caucus's 35th anniversary and Steele was scheduled -- on his public schedule and in the caucus's own handout -- to give the opening remarks at the ethics workshop, part of the caucus' annual Legislative Weekend.

No one with the black caucus, including Delegate Emmett C. Burns, D-Baltimore County, who invited the lieutenant governor to speak, was informed that Steele's schedule had changed.

"I was never told and I don't know why he didn't arrive," Burns said.

Steele, the first black lieutenant governor, announced Tuesday that he was running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Paul Sarbanes (search), the five-term retiring Democrat.

The black caucus chairwoman for the weekend's events said she expected Steele to hold to the commitment he made.

"These are people from all over the state," said Sen. Verna Jones, D-Baltimore, not just those from the Eastern Shore.

Given Steele's campaign situation, Burns said he was not surprised Steele skipped the caucus event.

"I really didn't think he was going to make it. I would have been surprised had he come," Burn said, adding, "There are more people out there than there are in here. ... I don't think it was a snub at all."

One Maryland political analyst said the missed appointment may not hurt his political aspirations.

"I doubt that he would intentionally" insult the black caucus, said James G. Gimpel, professor at the University of Maryland and editor of American Politics Research. "What would he have to gain?"

Gimpel added that what he saw as a "simple scheduling mistake" was just the first of what he expects to be many miscues.

"The candidate himself will probably feel a lot of frustration" with being pulled in two separate directions, Gimpel said. "This is only the beginning and it's going to continue."

Regan Hopper, Steele's press secretary, said the lieutenant governor's schedule changed Thursday night and she had sent a revised schedule out Friday morning. She said Steele was campaigning on the Eastern Shore. Steele's campaign did not return multiple phone calls.

"As far as I'm concerned, it was removed from the schedule because the lieutenant governor had to take care of personal business," Hopper said.

Burns said the lieutenant governor's favor with the black caucus has been "up and down." He invited Steele to speak because "he believes what we believe, simple as that. And he's in a position to implement some of the work we believe."

Jones said she still felt Steele missed an opportunity to talk to more than 200 people.

"When the administration wants something, they come to the black caucus," Jones said. "They only come to us when they want something."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.