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Published: Wednesday, 10/20/2004

Group courting black vote draws fire from Toledo mayor, pastors

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Revs. John Roberts, left, Gerald Fletcher, and Benjamin Green; Mayor Jack Ford, and the Revs. W.L. Perryman, John Walthall, and Lee Williams listen to the Rev. Cedric Brock speak. The Revs. John Roberts, left, Gerald Fletcher, and Benjamin Green; Mayor Jack Ford, and the Revs. W.L. Perryman, John Walthall, and Lee Williams listen to the Rev. Cedric Brock speak.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

More Toledo-area blows were exchanged in the fight for the presidential election yesterday, this time with the African-American vote as the targeted prize.

During the last Ohio stop in the "Empowering People of Color" tour, African-American clergy members from around the country flew into Toledo to listen to members of Bush-Cheney's national African-American Steering Committee talk about the President's policies to improve the lives of African-Americans and to denounce Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential contender, for playing of what they called "the race card."

"My charge is to take the President's positive policies that are empowering people of color to the African-American community," said Texas Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who stood beside Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and Cosby Show actor Joseph Phillips in support of President Bush's re-election campaign.

Mr. Steele specifically pointed to increases in homeownership for minorities and record boosts in educational funding for historically black colleges and universities.

The event raised the ire of Mayor Jack Ford and six local African-American pastors who held their own press conference in support of Mr. Kerry.

"We wanted to make sure the Toledo community knew where we all stood - strongly in support of Senator Kerry," said Mayor Ford, who has been speaking before African-American congregations throughout Toledo for the past few weeks.

The Republican-sponsored event was attended by about 75 African-American clergy members and Republican activists from around the nation, according to a head count taken by officials at the Genesis Dreamplex Hotel & Conference Center, where the event took place.

The event included two pastors from Toledo: the Rev. Robert A. Culp, whose church, the First Church of God, owns the conference center, and the Rev. John Algee of St. Martin de Porres church.

Mr. Culp, who gave the opening and closing prayer, said he attended the event not as an overt show of support but because he was invited by a member of his congregation.

Mr. Culp added that he was open to hearing what the Republicans had to say, but in the end it did not change the way he intended to vote in the upcoming election, a decision he declined to disclose.

"We have common ground on basic biblical values, like same-sex marriage and abortion," Mr. Culp said. "But when it comes to the war in Iraq, I totally disagree with the President."

Mayor Ford was joined by six Toledo-area pastors who did not attend the GOP event, though some were invited.

The Revs. John Roberts, Gerald Fletcher, Benjamin Green, Cedric Brock, John Walthall, W.L. Perryman, and Lee Williams, all of Toledo, stood beside the mayor as he made his comments in the Stevenson Roberts Hall, adjacent to the Indiana Avenue Missionary Baptist Church.

"I want you all to know that we stand behind Senator Kerry," Mr. Brock said. "I'm sure there will be ups and downs on the journey, but I hope that he is the right choice."

The pastors at Mayor Ford's event said issues most important to them and many members of their congregations included health care, the condition of the economy, and the war in Iraq.

Mr. Fletcher said he was most concerned about issues affecting the eldest and youngest in his congregation: "health care and the possibility of going through another draft."

"The hot-button issue for me and my parishioners is President Bush's stance on the war," Mr. Green said. "I don't like the scare tactics. It's a big project, and we can't do it by ourselves."

The Toledo-area pastors all stressed that they keep their political opinions out of their sermons, and don't plan to endorse any candidates before their congregations.

"We keep it out, don't mix it in with what we preach. Our people are intelligent enough to make their own decisions," Mr. Green said. "One sermon isn't going to change their minds one way or another anyway."

Contact Tad Vezner at:

tvezner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050



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