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CBC Urges Kerry to Address ‘Black Issues
By: Hazel Trice Edney
Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 9/7/2004

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) says he will ask Sen. John Kerry to meet with Black elected leaders from across the country this week during this CBC Annual Legislative Conference in order to develop a comprehensive urban strategy.

“I’m going to be asking him to meet with about 10 or 15 state and federal elected officials, basically to talk about strategy. I want to make sure, I want to remind him again of the strength that he has in the Black community. I want him to use these elected officials,” Cummings says. “We want to meet with him just to remind him directly – not his campaign, but him – that we want to work with him so that we can get the vote out and we want to stress the fact that we can help him tremendously.”

As various polls have shown Kerry and President Bush running practically neck-in-neck with Kerry’s domestic agenda giving him a slight advantage, Cummings believes strengthening that agenda, especially in the Black community, will give Kerry just the boost he needs.

“I do believe that while people may not have that excitement about Kerry that they had about Clinton, the fact is that there are enough African-Americans in the country of voter age who could easily put Kerry over the top. As a matter of fact, I hope he says that he realizes that he cannot win without African-Americans and that no matter what polls he looks at, he realizes that the African-American vote is very, very, very crucial to his election.”

A USA Today/CNN/Gallop Poll taken last month showed Kerry with significant leads over Bush when people were asked to compare them on issues of the economy (49-43 percent), Medicare (50-38 percent), education (48-43 percent), and taxes (47-44 percent). On the other hand, Bush led Kerry on foreign issues, such as the situation in Iraq (49-43 percent) and fighting terrorism (54-37 percent). The poll carried a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

While Bush strategically tried to project a strong domestic agenda during the Republican convention last week, Kerry, attempted to play up his Vietnam war hero status at the Democratic National Convention, trying to show his ability to lead in war time. But Cummings says he and Caucus members will recommend that he stick with his strong points.

“I’ve just asked him to lay out his urban agenda. Since many of us in the Congressional Black Caucus had a lot to do with formulating that agenda, I want him to talk about it He’s got to talk about education, he’s got to talk about Pell grants, he’s got to talk about prescription drugs,” Cummings says. “And he’s got to connect with people and let them know that he understands what they’re going through and that he wants to help.”

Cummings had not confirmed the exact day and time for the meeting by NNPA deadline. But, Kerry spokeswoman Divana Dolliole says Kerry has consistently met with African-American leaders throughout his campaign and would be glad to meet with those that Cummings designates, if his Sept. 11 schedule permits. The Congressional Black Caucus was the first group that Kerry met with after his nomination was confirmed last June.

At the CBC dinner, which attracts more than 1,500 people, Kerry will be speaking in front of his first predominately Black audience since July’s Democratic National Convention, where he avoided specific mention of his large Black constituency.

This got Cummings’ attention.

“I think there’s still an effort to try to, and a lot of politicians, try to appeal to the center and they think that if they make an appeal for the African-American vote, it may cause them not to get, say for example, the White male who is a moderate conservative. So, sure it concerns me,” Cummings says. “But at the same time, I realize that the main thing here is that he’s got to win. I do believe his heart is in the right place. And I believe that when he becomes president, then he’ll do the right thing.”

Kerry spokeswoman Divana Dolliole says he is already doing the right thing.

“Rest assured, John Kerry and [Vice presidential candidate] John Edwards recognize the power of the African-American vote and throughout this campaign, both John Kerry and John Edwards will continue to aggressively pursue the trust and the respect and support of the entire African-American community,” Dolliole says.

There is much at stake for the Democrats.

This year will be the first presidential election since Election 2000, when more than 1 million votes were not counted or not cast at all.

Cummings says he has also asked Kerry to warn African-Americans about conspiracies to block their vote.

“I think it is very important that African-American people hear from him that there are forces that are doing everything in their power to prevent African-Americans from voting and having their votes counted,” Cummings says. He noted that much of the CBC conference brain trusts and forums will also address voting problems and how voting affects public policy. “What we’re doing is trying to hook it up with the whole significance of voting.”

Though Cummings speaks often with Kerry as an advisor to his campaign, Cummings and eight other CBC members initially endorsed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean over Kerry as their Democratic choice for president.

“He’s measured up and I think he’s done pretty well,” says Cummings. “He’s just got to be very clear that he needs the African-American vote and he needs to be clear on what his agenda is for the African-American communities.”


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