Russell Simmons praised the Republican party in general, and Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in particular, for reforming drug laws and supporting Maryland's historic black universities.
The hip-hop mogul applauded Ehrlich's steering of nonviolent offenders into treatment instead of prison, and says the Republican party's urban initiatives and criminal-justice reforms are raising the Republican Party's profile among black voters nationwide.
"He raised the whole party up," Simmons said of the governor, before saying "He makes every Republican open for discussion" among black voters.
Mr. Simmons gave props to a list of other Republican leaders — including New York Gov. George E. Pataki and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — who are winning over black voters.
Simmons, who has been highly involved in politics with his Hip-hop Action Summits, also predicted Mr. Ehrlich will improve on the 15 percent of the black vote he won in 2002.
"I'm sure he will get a greater percentage [of the black vote] next time around — chip away at the rock," Mr. Simmons said. "Good deeds don't go unnoticed."
Ironically, Simmons campaigned in 2002 for Mr. Ehrlich's Democratic rival, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Since being won over by the governor, Simmons credits his criminal-justice reforms with "inspiring" the successful effort led by Simmons' coalition to repeal New York's strict 1973 Rockefeller drug laws.
"I don't know if we could have done what we did in New York if we hadn't seen Maryland move first," he said.
"Many blacks are very conservative," he continued. "The race issue [has] become less important in this country. It is about economic opportunities. It's about who will be compassionate and giving when it comes to people who need a helping hand."
Baltimore political activist Doni Glover agreed that Mr. Ehrlich has deepened his appeal to urban voters. He cited the governor's justice reforms, focus on minority businesses, and increased spending on Maryland's historic black universities, Morgan State and Coppin State.
"He is doing some things that people are surprised by," said Mr. Glover, who publishes BmoreNews.com, a Black Internet news site for the Washington-Baltimore area. "Coppin State has been underfunded for years. ... You look at Coppin's campus now and there is a lot of construction going on."