By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Virginia Beach NAACP president Carl Wright and former Chesapeake Mayor Dr. Bill Ward are not the only voters who are refusing to quickly choose between presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
The same outcome occurred after Sanders and Clinton recently held meetings with civil rights leaders in Harlem. For example the National Urban League tweeted, “Today’s meeting with Bernie Sanders resulted in crucial dialogue that we look forward to having with (all) presidential candidates.
Of the National Urban League’s subsequent meeting in Harlem with Clinton, President Marc Morial later told MSNBC, “We want to be fair. We have invited in writing every candidate. We want to be fair, even-handed, our aim is not to support any candidate. . .We raised concerns.”
Black Democrats who said they hold a favorable opinion of Sanders amounted to 53 percent nationwide, according to a Gallup survey conducted over the past month. Meanwhile, 82 percent viewed Clinton favorably. And 31 percent of those voters said they did not know enough about Sanders to rate him, while only 6 percent said the same about Clinton.
Black voters have been targeted in advertising campaigns, Ted Devine, a senior campaign manager for Sanders, recently told The New York Times. The South Carolina tab so far includes $711,000 for television. Black radio stations and cable ads have reached $381,000.
“It’s unfair to say we have given up on the Black vote in South Carolina because we are campaigning in states, like Virginia,” Devine recently told The New York Times. “This race is turning from a state campaign to a multistate campaign.”
Wright, who heads the NAACP in Virginia Beach, said he and his members know many of the facts. For example, Virginia Beach NAACP members know 13 Electoral College votes are at stake in Virginia.
They know Sanders recently opened a campaign office on Little Creek Road, while Clinton opened a local office on Feb. 17 at West 21st Street. Many NAACP members know they will turn out to vote on March 1 for the primary in Virginia.
But Wright said he does not know why both Democrats assume voting for either one of them is a sacred obligation to civil rights groups.
“No, it isn’t,” Wright said. “Because when African-Americans pay taxes in this country our taxes go to support the Democratic and Republican agendas. So, they both have an obligation to make sure that all people of color are treated fairly. Both parties have an obligation.”
“Where we stand on any of the candidates is we feel that all of them, whether Democrat or Republican, should have the best interests of people of color at heart,” Wright said. “From Trump, Cruz, Clinton to Sanders all should have the best interests of people of color at heart.”
“I don’t think they should be running if they don’t understand the need for education, skilled training, prison reform, the health disparity gap, and numerous other issues,” Wright said. “They shouldn’t come to us asking for our vote until they fully research and understand our needs.”
“From what I’ve heard, little shows that either candidate actually understands our dilemmas,” Wright said. “I haven’t heard a clear, concise message from either candidate. You can’t lump us and mix us together with other European groups, because we all have different urgencies.”
The wait-and-see strategy sounds familiar to Dr. Bill Ward, who served on Chesapeake City Council for 26 years. He became the mayor of Chesapeake in 1990. His 14-year mayoral tenure ended in 2004. Still involved in a long list of community projects, Ward often attended meetings at the White House with other mayors during the Clinton era. Clearly, he is a seasoned political observer.
“All of the organizations that you mentioned are non-profit organizations,” Ward pointed out. “And they have to be careful about political endorsements. But their individual members can endorse whomever they want.”
“I suspect in a few days we will begin to see individuals begin to endorse specific candidates,” Ward said. “I am not alarmed by the fact that these (civil rights) groups did not endorse anyone. But I do expect to soon see individual endorsements such as Al Sharpton.”
“As we listen to the candidates we hear their leanings,” Ward continued. “Many want to endorse Hillary. They know her history and commitment. They are being leery and may wait until after the South Carolina primary.”
Black voters may not be rushing to choose a candidate in the post-Obama era; but this sector is rushing to be heard. Shifting demographics make it a decisive sector. As a result, this sector is tirelessly weighing-in on social media, in street protests, at civil rights meetings, and even in churches.
Black parishioners, for example, barely looked up when Bernie Sanders recently walked into the dining room of Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, S.C. The point is South Carolina has 53 pledged delegates, compared to Nevada’s 35, giving the state and its minority voter’s greater say in the nomination process.
“Many of the church’s 780 members present looked up for a moment, then quietly went back to eating their Sunday feast – unmoved as Mr. Sanders, the senator from Vermont tried to work the room,” according to The New York Times.
“Mr. Sanders delivered remarks at a microphone next to a buffet table offering chicken, collard greens and dinner rolls.” The New York Times continued, “His visit here underscored Mr. Sander’s challenge in strengthening his support among Black voters in South Carolina … Hillary Clinton, seems to be holding on to a sizable lead.” (Polls predict Clinton will receive 59 percent compared to 32 percent for Sanders).
Theodore R. Johnson, a 2011-2012 White House Fellow and military veteran recently said of this pivotal sector’s impact on national political races: It will increase for years to come for several reasons.
“African-Americans are sick of the unemployment rate being perpetually twice the rate of whites,” Johnson wrote in The Atlantic on Feb. 14.“They are tired of poverty,”
“They are sick of Black neighborhoods being patrolled by battle-ready police,” Johnson continued. “They are tired of rights and opportunity being held from them just because of their race, whether it’s new voter-identification laws that complicate access to the ballot or the persistence of employment, rental, and housing discrimination … Plus, with health care increasingly inaccessible and health outcomes tragically worse for African-Americans, they are literally sick and tired.”
Many people of color aim to turn things around in the post-Obama era, including 170 prominent African-American women who Clinton announced would begin campaigning for her on Feb. 3. The women who endorsed her bid to become the first female president include actresses Angela Bassett and Vivica Fox; Eric Garner’s mother (Gwen Carr); Trayvon Martin’s mother (Sybrina Fulton); former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington D.C.; and Rep. Maxine Waters of California.
According to news reports, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox, and others will host debate watch parties, neighborhood meetings, and women-only phone banks for the upcoming primary in South Carolina on Feb. 27, and campaign for Clinton in the March primary states.
These women will also serve as surrogates for Clinton. They will walk door-to-door. And they will also carry her message to beauty salons, barber shops and grocery stores.
They will explain how Clinton plans to close the pay gap for women, fight for paid family leave, raise the minimum wage, and protect women’s reproductive rights.
Of the mounting involvement that appears to increase day by day, Ward said in Chesapeake, “As we get closer to the March 1 primary in Virginia, you will see more involvement, awareness, outreach, and volunteers.
“People often tell me they want to get involved in politics,” Ward added. “I tell them to get involved with a local candidate and do grunt work, do neighborhood work. That is where you learn about politics. That is how I grew up, like Obama working in the trenches, in the streets. I learned by doing, by being involved, by reading.”
Black voters are expected to be a majority in the Democratic primary in Georgia, and approach a third of voters in Virginia and Tennessee, according to news reports. This sector has a double-digit share of eligible voters in only 11 states, according to a new Pew Research study. But several of those states are large ones – such as Texas, California, Florida and New York – where Hispanic voters can swing lots of delegates. Blacks comprised 55 percent of Democratic voters in the 2008 primary in South Carolina.
Comparing Sanders to Clinton, Ward said, “I have known about Sanders for many years as a political observer. I went to school in New England. But I have never known of an aggressive position he has taken to the plight of Black people. It could be because he is from Vermont and it has only a few Black people.”
“Many of his ideas, like Trump’s, are unrealistic,” Ward said. “They talk about things that will cost astronomical sums of money like a free college education but that’s more like fantasy in my mind. I feel Hillary will expand many of Obama’s programs and refine some of her own.”
“She has the record,” Ward said. “We need to look clearly at the record and not at the rhetoric. We as a people need to read more, analyze what is practical, and weigh what sounds good against what is real.”