The recent endorsement of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake by a longtime alliance of Black pastors incited a fiery debate on social networking sites last week.

Community activists and everyday citizens expressed disdain for the endorsement and its process.

“This is shameful, disgusting and repulsive. Shame, Shame, Shame,” Rev. Cortly CD Witherspoon wrote on his Facebook wall.

“People should do the research and think for themselves,” James Akalamade Alston commented on the networking site. “It’s a pity if their vote is swayed by the observations of each candidate’s endorsements.”

Janice Dixon reminded her Facebook friends that “endorsements don’t win elections, voters do!”

Some decried the endorsement as a secret political deal and others lamented the fall of the ministers’ organization.

The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a coalition of Baltimore’s Black clergy, hosted a quiet press conference July 7 announcing their support of Rawlings-Blake for the mayor’s race.

Mayoral contender State Sen. Catherine Pugh jolted the event near its conclusion, demanding that the alliance explain why they chose to endorse Rawlings-Blake without interviewing other candidates.

IMA president Rev. Dr. Alvin J. Gwynn Sr., pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, told reporters that the group promised to endorse Rawlings-Blake a year in advance.

Gwynn said he and four other alliance members made the “unofficial” decision to endorse the mayor after holding a meeting with her a few months after she took the reins as mayor in 2010. He added that the crowded mayoral candidates list made it difficult to interview everyone, according to the Baltimore Brew.

Calls to Gwynn were not returned by AFRO deadline.

According to news reports, 14 ministers attended the announcement. But several IMA members said they were not aware that Rawlings-Blake would be endorsed.

That includes retired pastor, the Rev. Marion C. Bascom, a member and former president of the Alliance. IMA has announced endorsements for many years, he said, but it has “always been because we listened to all the candidates.”

The Rev. Heber Brown, who resigned as the Alliance’s vice president soon after the incident, said he received a call to attend the meeting but had assumed members would merely discuss potential candidates, not officially endorse one.

“I was surprised to learn it was an endorsement,” he said.

Although the controversial event played a role in his decision to step down, he said other factors ultimately led to the decision.

“I’m in full agreement with the criticism; the people have been absolutely right,” he said.

“The process was unfair. And I know Pastor Gwynn and others in the alliance; all those involved are great people, but it was wrong.”

Catalina Byrd, a radio show host and an unaffiliated mayoral candidate, said she was not surprised by the endorsement, but she was taken aback that Pugh, a state senator for the 40th district, decided to “crash it.”

“She’s playing hard…but I think it was in poor taste,” she said in a phone interview.

Byrd said any non-profit or organization that receives funding or is tied to the city will endorse the incumbent. “This happens every election year. Those institutions come out for the incumbent first or their deals don’t come through,” she explained.

One Facebook user frowned at the political involvement of all clergy members.

“Crossing the lines of church and state…wrong, wrong, wrong,” wrote Dana Blount Wilson.

But Rev. Brown said “people who say that overlook the role of the Black church.”

“The church always has and will always need to be involved ,” he said, referencing Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other religious leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

Brown, who had been active in IMA for the last six years, says the 75-year-old group remains relevant.

“I heard some people commenting that the group should be discarded. I don’t believe that; the legacy is too rich,” he said. “It’s a remarkable group that has been leading the charge on so many issues.”

The lesson in this controversy, he says, is that ministers are not perfect.

“What went down last week was wrong. But this also shows that pastors are human too and we make mistakes,” Brown said. “But just because they messed up, the Alliance shouldn’t be thrown away altogether.”

There have been reports that a separate group of ministers will speak with mayoral candidates, although they might not make an official endorsement.

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO