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Democratic Leader Says Blacks Should Lead Quest for Social Justice
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 6/11/2003

BALTIMORE (NNPA) – Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe is urging African-Americans to take the lead in fighting for social justice as candidates from both parties compete for their support in next year’s presidential election.

“In this upcoming political season, we need African-Americans to lead the call to restore opportunity and equality in government to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender,” McAuliffe said Thursday in Baltimore at the annual convention of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. “African-Americans have always stood firm on the principle of opportunity and equality for all Americans.”

McAuliffe recently witnessed Blacks taking the lead on an issue that was considered unjust. He and the DNC were strongly criticized for proposing to fire 10 staff members, all of them Black. The layoffs were called off after Black political insiders challenged the proposed cuts.

In his address to the NNPA, which represents more than 200 Black publishers, McAuliffe acknowledged that Democrats had made a mistake.

“The press reports of last week on staffing changes were the result of miscommunication – for that I take full responsibility,” McAuliffe says. “I am chairman of this great party today due in part to the support of many African-Americans and I am extremely proud of the role that African-Americans have played and continue to play in the Democratic Party, and look forward to continuing to expand that role.”

Two prominent African-Americans publicly expressed objections to the staff cuts. Donna Brazile, chair of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute and Minyon Moore, former DNC chief operating office, pressed party officials to reverse their decision.

While McAuliffe accepts responsibility for the layoff debacle, he warns that layoffs may still be necessary because of budget limitations. Given the public uproar, however, it is unlikely that only Blacks will receive pink slips.

With African-Americans voting Democratic in national elections 80 to 90 percent of the time, Democrats realize the value of their most loyal voting bloc.

“We absolutely will not beat Bush and his Right-wing Congressional colleagues without the help of the African-American community,” McAuliffe says. “The Democratic Party needs the active support of African-Americans across the board and across the country.”

The McAuliffe speech was not unlike other pre-election pitches to inspire Black voters. But those pitches are likely to fall on deft ears if the party continues bungle efforts to respect the Black vote.

News of the botched firings came as top Democrats in Congress were also criticized by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), for selecting so few African-Americans for committee staff positions.

In March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had no African-Americans among its first five staff hires. In April, the Democratic side of the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Homeland Security likewise hired only White staffers in its first five positions.

Meanwhile, leading Democrats are also calling for more Black input into policy-making.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is teaming up with the CBC for an African-American Leadership Summit for June 26 on Capitol Hill. The summit, in the planning stages for several months, is aimed at establishing a policy dialogue between local and state Black leaders and national Democratic lawmakers.
CBC spokesman Doug Thornell says the summit will provide an opportunity to reaffirm the party’s commitment to the Black community.

“There’s some sense out there that Democrats take the Black community for granted and are out of touch with a lot of what’s going on in the Black community,” Thornell says. “Not only is this a reaffirmation, it is a chance to see what we are doing.”

Republicans have also stepped up their efforts to reach out to Black voters. Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot says their efforts are scaring Democrats.

In his speech, McAuliffe didn’t sound as if he were frightened.

“The Democratic Party has always and will continue to be the party of opportunity and we will stand up and fight for a society where everyone has the opportunity to move up.”

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