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Published: Thursday, 8/26/2004

Urban Ohioans pepper Edwards about concerns

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

CLEVELAND Venturing beyond his stump speech, John Edwards faced a barrage of questions yesterday from African-American community leaders about the plight of ex-cons trying to re-enter the work force and how John Kerry would help inner-city America.

At a community center next to a housing project, Mr. Edwards made opening remarks and then said, I didn t come here to talk to you today. I came here to listen to you, to hear what your concerns are.

The audience of 200, most of whom had received tickets through the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, accepted the challenge from the running mate of Mr. Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate and four-term U.S. senator from Massachusetts.

It soon became clear that unlike most presidential campaign events, this one was unscripted and would test Mr. Edwards, a first-term U.S. senator from North Carolina.

Gary McGinnis, an insurance agent in Cleveland, said the employment field never will be level as long as companies ask in their applications: Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

I d like to get your view on this, Mr. McGinnis said.

About whether we permit that question to be asked? replied Mr. Edwards.

Mr. McGinnis nodded.

Honest answer is I don t know if government can prevent that question from being asked. What we can do is make sure we have partners with businesses who will help put them back in the work force.

The Rev. Kyle Earley, coordinator of a youth program, asked Mr. Edwards what he and Mr. Kerry will do to pursue the inner-city vote young men and women who have made mistakes and have felonies, young women who have children out of wedlock and the corner vote, which he said includes drug dealers.

We don t know your community like you know your community, replied Mr. Edwards. My view is that folks in the community, leading members of the clergy, and leaders in the community, know what we need to do to organize and reach out to the very people that you are talking about.

After more questions about whether felony records should be wiped out if a person is crime free, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones jumped in to say let s go to another subject area.

A young girl sitting on the bleachers behind the stage then asked Mr. Edwards: Will you save us from terrorists?

After struggling to figure out what she said, Mr. Edwards replied: Yes, darling, we re going to save you from terrorists.

After the event, Mr. McGinnis, 50, who said he had a felony assault conviction about 30 years ago, said he did not think Mr. Edwards had thought much about the issue, but added that he felt Mr. Edwards gave him an honest answer.

The Rev. Earley said he remains unclear about whether Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards have a true plan to take their message to inner cities.

It s very difficult for this generation to vote in someone that they do not see or cannot touch, he said.

Earlier, Mr. Edwards told the crowd that he and Mr. Kerry have fought on behalf of African-Americans, including support for the University of Michigan s affirmative action program.

Our view is when we do things to help members of the African-American community, it s not for the African-American community. It s not an African-American issue. It s good for America, he said.

Mr. Edwards traveled from Cleveland to Warren, where 4,000 people filled an amphitheater to hear Mr. Edwards weave parts of his Two Americas speech from the primary season into his pitch for Mr. Kerry.

Mr. Edwards said a third of the tax cuts that Mr. Bush fought for went to citizens with average earnings of $1.2 million.

I bet that includes a lot of y all, Mr. Edwards said with a smile.

Mercedes, BMWs, they re selling through the roof. What about Chevy and Ford?

The truth is we have two different economies in America now. There is no question the President and his crowd is looking out for one of those economies, and they re doing great.

The problem is most of America is in the other one.

Contact James Drew at:jdrew@theblade.comor 614-221-0496.



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