- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday she would favor a child investment program that provides $5,000 to help every newborn start saving to pay for college as part of her universal pre-kindergarten and education program.

“When that young person turns 18, if they have finished high school, they will be able to access it to go to college,” she said at the Congressional Black Caucus’ 37th Annual Legislative Caucus.

Mrs. Clinton said the biggest problem for black Americans is access to wealth and building wealth and that the “baby bond could be a good way to get them started on a lifetime of saving and growing wealth.”

The New York Democrat’s remarks came in response to an audience member’s question about what lawmakers can do to alleviate student debt for black graduates.

The Democratic front-runners for the presidential nomination yesterday continued their push to lock in black voters at rival events.

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, delivered the convocation speech at Howard University detailing his civil rights and criminal justice policies.

Mr. Obama said he would end the tenfold sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. He also said he would create a voting rights division of the Justice Department and staff it and the civil rights division with career civil rights lawyers.

“We’ll have a voting rights section that actually defends the right of every American to vote without deception or intimidation. When fliers are placed in our neighborhoods telling people to vote on the wrong day, that won’t only be an injustice — it will be a crime,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama also said that current mandatory minimum sentencing laws that call for locking up some first-time, nonviolent drug users for decades should be reformed to provide more drug treatment and rehabilitation programs outside of prison.

“Thurgood Marshall [as a lawyer] did not argue [the Supreme Court case] Brown [v. Board of Education] so that we would accept a country where too many African-American men end up in prison because we’d rather spend more to jail a 25-year-old than to educate a 5-year-old,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama now are even in the number of Congressional Black Caucus endorsements at 12. And despite Mrs. Clinton’s lead by large margins in national polls and slightly in some state polls, with swelling crowds and more than 300,000 donors to Obama’s campaign, some are beginning to wonder who is actually the front-runner.

“When you have someone like Obama who does not receive special-interest money or PAC money and still is able to outdistance Hillary Clinton, who has been the wife of a president for eight years and is taking PAC and special-interest money, in the world of politics, that is simply phenomenal,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, who has endorsed Mr. Obama.

Mr. Cummings, unsure why anyone is calling either candidate a front-runner this early, cautioned, “We’ll just have to wait and see after the first primary.”

Mr. Obama’s comments came a day after Democratic presidential aspirant John Edwards, responding to a question about how to curb violence among inner-city teens, said there is no “silver bullet” and that incarcerating blacks isn’t the answer.

“We start with the president of the United States saying to America, ‘We cannot build enough prisons to solve this problem. And the idea that we can keep incarcerating and keep incarcerating — pretty soon we’re not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They’re all going to be in prison or dead. One of the two,” the former North Carolina Senator said during an MTV-MySpace.com forum at the University of New Hampshire.

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