- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Mark R. Warner, the Democrat running for governor of Virginia, contends he is "not one of those politicians who show up in the black church on the last Sunday in October."
During a recent fund-raiser hosted by black entrepreneurs in Northern Virginia, he said, "It's past time when any candidate, especially a white candidate, can come to the African-American community and ask for their vote because he's a Democrat."
Really? For further evidence of this potential political sea change in the Old Dominion, look no further than Mr. Warner's opponent, former state Attorney General Mark L. Earley.
Last week, 15 black clergy members who formed an organization called African American Pastors for Earley endorsed the Republican's bid.
"Historically, we have blindly given our votes to the Democratic Party, and look at the state of our community," the Rev. Alex Boyd of Richmond told reporter Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times. "It's time for a change."
Historically, let us not forget, the Virginia GOP used to write off the black vote, making no attempts to bring blacks or other minorities into its fold. Nor should we forget that many Southern Dixiecrats, who now comprise the national GOP leadership, defected from the Democratic Party when it took up the civil rights cause.
All political candidates of every party stripe would do well to remember that black voters, like all others, have always voted in their self-interest.
Today, more blacks, particularly of the younger generation, are registering as independents. In voicing their disillusionment with traditional politics, they say the Democratic Party takes their votes for granted, while the Republican Party either ignores them, marginalizes them or makes tokens of them.
In Virginia, black voters make up approximately 12 percent of the electorate. Yet they contributed to the slim margins of victory needed by former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and former Sen. Charles S. Robb.
Nonetheless, Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III has enjoyed black support. In part, it's because he established a separate Martin Luther King holiday, earmarked funds for black colleges and universities, and reached across party lines to include blacks and other minorities in his administration.
Mr. Earley garnered 20 percent of the black vote in his 1997 bid for attorney general, according to exit polls. He touted his ability to attract black voters during his party's contentious primary for governor.
The black pastors said Mr. Earley's longtime membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, his tough law-and-order stance and his Christian values captured their support. However, his commitment to address such important issue as racial profiling has been called into question.
But where Republicans are the elected majority holding every major statewide office from the U.S. Senate to the Statehouse to the governor's mansion, Virginian blacks are savvy enough to understand that their interests cannot not be served well by putting all their eggs in one basket.
No one demonstrates this evolving political phenomenon better than Mr. Wilder, who coyly courts Republican favor while withholding support until the 11th hour for his own party's candidates, such as Mr. Robb.
Mr. Wilder has yet to endorse Mr. Warner, who was his campaign manager during his historic run for governor. Worse, his hard-hitting interrogation of Mr. Warner regarding his stance on a Northern Virginia transportation tax referendum during last week's televised debate from Richmond nearly knocked the usually quick-witted Democratic candidate off his feet.
N. Joseph Watson, president and chief executive officer of Strategic Hire in Herndon, is an independent who said he voted for Democrats and Republicans, including Rep. Frank R. Wolf in Virginia's 10th Congressional District and the first President Bush.
Now, however, he speaks for the Mark Warner African-American Leadership 2001 Host Committee, which sponsored a boat-ride reception in Old Town Alexandria on Sept. 24.
Mr. Watson said he is also a member of a growing group of nonpartisan young black entrepreneurs who represent a new type of black leadership that cannot be categorized.
"We're the generation that is going through the doors that were kicked down by the generation before us," Mr. Watson said. "The African-American vote can no longer be taken for granted."
Nor, Mr. Watson suggests, does the black constituency merely translate into votes cast at the polls. His group wanted to demonstrate its financial cachet by raising more than $75,000 from the 125 patrons present.
"Why does Mark [Warner] have this level of support with the African-American community? It's trust and generousness. We support him because he first supported us," Mr. Watson said as he ticked off a laundry list of Warner accolades.
Mr. Warner has also been endorsed by Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus, whose 14 members are all Democrats, some of whom downplayed the black pastors' support for Mr. Earley.
Mr. Warner's band of black supporters agree he's no Johnny-come-lately. He has a record that deserve their votes by investing his own money for educational and economic opportunities.
Producer and actor Tim Reid, who also attended the Warner fund-raiser, said he "gravitates toward people regardless of race who are about [affecting change], because the old ways are just not going to cut it."
The Virginia-born actor said Mr. Warner exhibits the kind of "passion" needed for the task of motivating voters who are no longer wedded to party politics.
Many politicians talk about changing attitudes, but few "roll up their sleeves and try to effect change," Mr. Reid said. Mr. Warner is a partner in the film production company, New Millennium Studios, run by Mr. Reid and his wife, Daphne Maxwell Reid, in Petersburg, Va.
Mr. Warner said, "Folks don't want to hear what you're going to do, but what have you done."
Indeed, check their records. As Mr. Watson said, "It's not about the party, it's about the person and getting the job done."
Adrienne T. Washington's e-mail address is [email protected]

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