Friday, May 23, 2008

Exum defends gas station aid

‘They’re trying to kill me,’ senator tells NAACP

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State Sen. Nathaniel Exum responded to allegations that he abused his General Assembly position, saying he was fighting for constituents when he pushed to grant a license to a gas station during the last legislative session.

‘‘Any time a black man tries to stand up to the powers that be, they try to vilify him,” Exum (D-Dist. 24) of Capitol Heights told about 20 people gathered at the monthly meeting of the Prince George’s County chapter of the NAACP on May 15.

Exum, 68, who has been a major force in county politics for 34 years, spoke to the group about media reports claiming he called on Gov. Martin O’Malley to force the Maryland State Police to reissue a license to let a gas station in his district resume performing car inspections. Reports in The Washington Post linked Exum’s effort to hold up the appointment of a new state police superintendent to the license’s approval.

‘‘If you’ve read the last month and a half of The Washington Post, they’re trying to kill me,” he said at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People meeting in Landover.

‘‘They never said I did anything wrong, but they put it in your mind,” he said. ‘‘They infer it.”

The station, Hilltop Fleet Services, had its license revoked in 2002 after police said the station claimed hundreds more auto inspections than it had the staff or time to do. Although the station applied for a new license several times, it was repeatedly denied by state police.

The station was granted a new license to make inspections this spring, at the same time Exum threatened to hold up the appointment of Col. Terrence Sheridan to become superintendent of the state police. Exum, who cast the sole dissenting vote, said he questioned the nominee’s commitment to diversity and denied it was related to the license.

In a radio interview last week, O’Malley said that the license was reissued so that Hilltop would be treated the same as other stations. He also said that the station would be watched closely.