By moderating the National Urban League's Democratic presidential forum in St. Louis last Friday with Marc Morial, I got an inside look at the jockeying for the Black vote and received an unusual amount of feedback about who won over the audience at the Urban League's national convention.
By moderating the National Urban League's Democratic presidential forum in St. Louis last Friday with Marc Morial, I got an inside look
at the jockeying for the Black vote and received an unusual amount of feedback about who won over the audience at the Urban League's national convention.
Four Democrats accepted the National Urban League's invitation to participate: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich. Two Republicans accepted but backed out at the last moment. One has to question the judgment and commitment of any presidential candidate who failed to see the importance of appearing before the National Urban League. And when they bring up the tired, old "scheduling conflict" excuse, I always think of Julian Bond's retort, "They scheduled a conflict."
Regardless of the speaker's politics, any candidate could appear before Urban Leaguers and know that they will be politely received. When President George Bush was refusing to meet with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, he spoke at two National Urban League conventions. It's going to be difficult for Republicans to maintain that they are interested in a so-called outreach program to African-Americans yet insult them by refusing to appear before major Black organizations.
Fortunately, the attention at the National Urban League convention was on who was present, not those who were AWOL. And the top question was: Who won, Hillary or Barack? And the consensus was that Clinton connected better with the predominantly Black audience. That sentiment was expressed to me even by some staunch Obama supporters.
It wasn't that Obama was bad. He's an excellent speaker with a quick wit. Yet, Clinton, admittedly riding on the excessive adulation of her husband, was judged the clear winner of the popularity contest. Although Obama gave a "shout-out" to Marc Morial, the National Urban League's president and CEO, it was Clinton who seemed more at ease with the audience. It was clear that she has been in more than her share of Black churches and eaten a lot of fried chicken along the way.
She refused to observe the time limits assigned each candidate, saying that she couldn't stop while she was on a roll, and gave a high-five to Morial when she finally completed her 20-minutes presentation about five minutes late. She made a shrewd political move by picking that setting to announce a new youth initiative and concentrating on the needs of Black males.
Obama followed Clinton and was the last speaker. Even some Clinton backers were hoping that he'd bring down the house. The closest he came was when Morial asked him to imagine himself getting elected and beginning his first 100 days in office. Obama cleverly raised his right hand and pretended to hold his left hand on a Bible, as he was administered an imaginary oath of office. The crowd loved it.
He was impressive as he talked about being a civil rights lawyer and working on behalf of poor people after graduating from Harvard Law School. For some reason, Obama made eye contact mostly with those to the right. Some in the audience say they were on the verge of going into the Beyonce mode: To the left, to the left.
Supporters of both Obama and Clinton were impressed with Kucinich, perhaps because they were less familiar with him. He was more passionate than either Clinton, Obama or Edwards and his delivery was smoother than any other candidate. He made effective use of silence, as all great speakers do, and he personalize the plight of the poor, using his family as an example.
More than any other candidate, Edwards has kept the issue of poverty at the forefront of his campaign and was sensitive enough to kick off his campaign in New Orleans' 9th Ward did.
Though mired in third place behind Clinton and Obama in the polls, Edwards mi