ANNAPOLIS – Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele apologized Friday for comments he made to the Baltimore Jewish Council comparing embryonic stem cell research to Nazi medical experiments.
“Some folks drew an inference to the holocaust and the research and all of that, and that was not what I was intending to say,” Steele said. “That’s not where my heart or my head is.”
Speaking on WBAL radio, Steele went on to explain that the comments resulted from his discussion earlier in the night about the impact his trip to the Holocaust Museum in Israel had on him, and that he did not intend to link stem cell research to medical experiments performed by the Nazis during World War II.
Steele made the controversial comments comparing the two Thursday night, speaking to a meeting of the Baltimore Jewish Council.
When asked about his position on stem cell research, Steele said, according to a Baltimore Sun report, “You of all folks know what happens when people decide they want to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool.”
Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said Steele apologized to him Friday morning and said he would send a formal letter of apology to the council.
“His apology was very humble. It was sincere and I completely accept it,” Abramson said.
Steele’s remarks quickly became political fodder in the campaign to fill the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., which Steele is seeking.
One of the declared candidates for the Democratic nomination, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, called a press conference in Annapolis Friday morning to denounce Steele’s remarks. With him was his wife, Myrna E. Cardin, a former president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, who had attended the meeting where Steele spoke.
“It was really quite horrifying,” she said. “I don’t know that I could say there was a collective (gasp), but you sure felt that in the room, that these were just not the words that any of us ever wanted to hear.”
A second Democratic candidate for the Sarbanes sear, former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, weighed in later with a written statement saying that he thought Steele’s remarks were “inappropriate and insensitive.”
“There can be no comparison to lifesaving stem cell medical research and the reprehensible horrors committed by the Nazis against innocent men, women and children,” Mfume said.
Benjamin Cardin said that stem cell research is “an appropriate issue for us to debate . . . but he (Steele) doesn’t have the right to compare those dedicated individuals who are involved in stem cell research to the atrocities that took place during World War II with the physicians of Nazi Germany.”
A spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. declined to comment, saying Ehrlich had no statements beyond those released by Steele.
Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris, R – Baltimore and Harford counties, defended Steele, saying, like Steele, he believed embryonic stem cells constitute human life and Steele’s comments were based on this belief.
Harris said the problem wasn’t that Steele’s comments had gone too far. “I think the interpretation of the comments went too far,” Harris said. “Now, it’s politics being played with the issue.”
Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D – Baltimore County, who is sponsoring a senate bill that would allocate funding for embryonic stem cell research, was at Cardin’s press conference and called on Ehrlich to stop a threatened filibuster of the bill by Senate Republicans. “I think the governor has the ability to call off a filibuster and to let the right thing happen,” Hollinger also said Ehrlich should “disavow the language that’s been used around the embryonic stem cell research bill.”