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Published: Saturday, 7/19/2003

Skipping NAACP forum was bad judgment

BY ROSE RUSSELL

THE politicians who didn't show when invited to appear at the NAACP's annual convention in Miami Beach, Fla. never had any intention of going.

If they had, they would have been at the forum on Monday with the other presidential contenders.

Instead, three of the Democrats who decided to forgo the forum appeared on Thursday to make apologies, thanks to NAACP President Kweisi Mfume's graciousness.

“Organizationally, we would be out of line if in fact anybody wanted to apologize to us and we said no,” Mr. Mfume is quoted as saying.

But it ain't over yet, guys, and black voters will recall who snubbed the oldest civil rights organization with largely black members when they start voting next winter in the primaries.

Interestingly, the first primaries are in regions with large black populations, and those voters won't forget these events. The first primary is Jan. 13 in the District of Columbia; the South Carolina, Delaware, Virginia, and Missouri primaries are Feb. 3.

Minority voters there can't be faulted if they refuse to support Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri. Chairs for them and President Bush sat empty as the other six Democrats hoping to become president addressed the convention.

The three Democrats finally were pressured into going to the convention as criticism grew about their absence.

Mr. Lieberman was in New York for a television interview and to campaign. Apparently he didn't consider appearing at the NAACP convention as important.

Mr. Gephardt said he had a family obligation, but there's still no word on just what it was.

As for Mr. Kucinich, he stayed in Washington to vote on issues on Monday. The White House hasn't yet offered an excuse for why the President didn't appear.

The latter two Democratic candidates' explanations are reasonable. Family is important, and it's essential for representatives to be present to vote on the issues.

Yet I'm curious. Did the candidates try to juggle their schedules so they could attend the 90-minute forum? It's difficult to accommodate everyone's schedule, for sure, but it's not as if the NAACP convention was only set a month ago.

Politicians make it their business to know the dates that powerful organizations meet, and they clear their schedules to attend major events.

So what's up with these guys? Couldn't they do the same for the NAACP and its constituents? Aren't they important, too?

“They made a huge mistake, and it will come back to haunt them,” said expert organizer Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's presidential campaign.

After they didn't show, Mr. Mfume called the pols absent from the forum “persona non grata,” and said, “Your political capital is the equivalent of Confederate dollars.”

Yet the apologies don't mean blacks think their political capital is worth their votes.

And the other members of the Democratic Nine who showed up can't take minority voters' support for granted either.

It's especially noteworthy too that Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and John Kerry of Massachusetts didn't plan to go to the convention, but finally decided to drop in after all. How nice.

And the fact that Mr. Bush didn't show and didn't say why, let alone apologize, underscores his disregard for the NAACP and for black voters, too.

Black voters are frustrated about being taken for granted by the Democrats and about being ignored by the Republicans.

It has to stop.


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