CBC Urges Kerry to Address Black Issues

Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Congressional Black Caucus ChairmanElijah Cummings (D-Md.) says he will ask Sen. John Kerry to meetwith Black elected leaders from across the country this week duringthis CBC Annual Legislative Conference in order to develop acomprehensive urban strategy.

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

As various polls have shown Kerry and President Bush runningpractically neck-in-neck with Kerry’s domestic agenda givinghim a slight advantage, Cummings believes strengthening thatagenda, especially in the Black community, will give Kerry just theboost he needs.

“I do believe that while people may not have that excitementabout Kerry that they had about Clinton, the fact is that there areenough African-Americans in the country of voter age who couldeasily put Kerry over the top. As a matter of fact, I hope he saysthat he realizes that he cannot win without African-Americans andthat no matter what polls he looks at, he realizes that theAfrican-American vote is very, very, very crucial to hiselection.”

A USA Today/CNN/Gallop Poll taken last month showed Kerry withsignificant leads over Bush when people were asked to compare themon issues of the economy (49-43 percent), Medicare (50-38 percent),education (48-43 percent), and taxes (47-44 percent). On the otherhand, Bush led Kerry on foreign issues, such as the situation inIraq (49-43 percent) and fighting terrorism (54-37 percent). Thepoll carried a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentagepoints.

While Bush strategically tried to project a strong domestic agendaduring the Republican convention last week, Kerry, attempted toplay up his Vietnam war hero status at the Democratic NationalConvention, trying to show his ability to lead in war time. ButCummings says he and Caucus members will recommend that he stickwith his strong points.

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

Cummings had not confirmed the exact day and time for the meetingby NNPA deadline. But, Kerry spokeswoman Divana Dolliole says Kerryhas consistently met with African-American leaders throughout hiscampaign and would be glad to meet with those that Cummingsdesignates, if his Sept. 11 schedule permits. The CongressionalBlack Caucus was the first group that Kerry met with after hisnomination was confirmed last June.

At the CBC dinner, which attracts more than 1,500 people, Kerrywill be speaking in front of his first predominately Black audiencesince July’s Democratic National Convention, where he avoidedspecific mention of his large Black constituency.

This got Cummings’ attention.

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

Kerry spokeswoman Divana Dolliole says he is already doing theright thing.

“Rest assured, John Kerry and [Vice presidential candidate]John Edwards recognize the power of the African-American vote andthroughout this campaign, both John Kerry and John Edwards willcontinue to aggressively pursue the trust and the respect andsupport of the entire African-American community,” Dolliolesays.

There is much at stake for the Democrats.

This year will be the first presidential election since Election2000, when more than 1 million votes were not counted or not castat all.

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

“I think it is very important that African-American peoplehear from him that there are forces that are doing everything intheir power to prevent African-Americans from voting and havingtheir votes counted,” Cummings says. He noted that much ofthe CBC conference brain trusts and forums will also address votingproblems and how voting affects public policy. “Whatwe’re doing is trying to hook it up with the wholesignificance of voting.”

Though Cummings speaks often with Kerry as an advisor to hiscampaign, Cummings and eight other CBC members initially endorsedformer Vermont Gov. Howard Dean over Kerry as their Democraticchoice for president.

“He’s measured up and I think he’s done prettywell,” says Cummings. “He’s just got to be veryclear that he needs the African-American vote and he needs to beclear on what his agenda is for the African-Americancommunities.”