- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

Black Democrats are still fuming about Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's tribute last year to former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, an indication of the Connecticut Democrat's continuing problem with blacks that threatens to undermine his bid for the party's presidential nomination.
Former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, a longtime civil rights activist and prominent player within the Democratic Party, said Mr. Lieberman's little-noticed remarks were still troubling and that blacks have not forgotten them.
"I didn't appreciate Lieberman saying that Thurmond is 'a man of iron with a heart of gold,'" Mr. Jackson told The Washington Times last week at the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting. Mr. Lieberman was among seven presidential hopefuls who addressed the group.
"Thurmond preached segregation of black and white Americans. He ran for president on the segregationist Dixiecrat agenda. He filibustered civil rights legislation. He has never apologized for the positions he took. Yet [Mr. Lieberman] praised him as a great American," Mr. Jackson said.
Other black political leaders are suspicious of Mr. Lieberman, who is Jewish, because of his past chairmanship of the Democratic Leadership Council, the center-leaning group that is at war with the party's liberal wing. Black leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton continue to denounce the DLC.
"They don't call themselves the Dixiecrats now; they call themselves the DLC," Mr. Sharpton regularly says to black audiences. Mr. Sharpton is one of Mr. Lieberman's rivals for the Democratic nomination.
Maynard Jackson's open criticism of a fellow Democrat is a reminder of the hostility that has existed between blacks and Jews in the past two decades, reignited by Jesse Jackson in 1984 when in a conversation with a reporter, he referred to Jews as "hymies" and to New York City as "Hymietown."
It also underscores the antipathy liberal black activists have for Mr. Lieberman's centrist-leaning views, particularly his earlier opposition to affirmative action.
The strained relationship was deepened last year in a Democratic primary in Georgia when Jewish campaign contributors helped defeat incumbent Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, a black lawmaker who was a fierce critic of Israel over what she said was its powerful influence on U.S. foreign policy.
"That defeat is something that Southern blacks won't forget," a Democratic strategist said. Mrs. McKinney's opponent in the primary, Denise L. Majette, also is black.
The Connecticut Democrat, Al Gore's running mate in 2000, has been leading his party's presidential contenders in some national polls, partly as a result of better name recognition.
But the black vote is critical to any Democrat running for president. Blacks make up 10 percent of the electorate and vote mostly Democratic in national elections. Mr. Gore won 91 percent of the black vote in 2000.
Recent polls show that more blacks are registering as independents and becoming swing voters. A poll of black voters conducted last summer by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm, found that four out of 10 black voters said the Democratic Party has taken them "for granted."
"Lieberman is viewed somewhat suspiciously by African-Americans because he is associated with the conservative wing of the Democratic Party," said David Bositis, political analyst and pollster for the Center for Political and Economic Studies, which analyzes issues affecting blacks.
"He is very unlikely to do well with African-Americans in the South. He is unlikely to do well with African-Americans period," said Mr. Bositis, who added that relations between Jews and blacks remain strained in the South and elsewhere.
Donna Brazile, one of the Democrats' leading black strategists, defended Mr. Lieberman, saying he has "a strong commitment to civil rights and social justice."
"He not only marched with [Martin Luther King] and walked the walk, but he has done other important things that make him acceptable. He has placed the phone calls and has been deeply committed when African-Americans called on him for his support on voting rights and other issues," she said.
Black criticism of Mr. Lieberman erupted at the Democratic national convention in 2000 where Congressional Black Caucus leaders, led by Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, bitterly attacked him for opposing affirmative action and favoring school-choice vouchers.
The senator backtracked on a number of positions in a tense appearance before the caucus, but black resentment about his views remains.
Mr. Lieberman, along with Senate colleagues in both parties, made remarks about Mr. Thurmond as part of a series of senatorial tributes late last year when the South Carolina senator was approaching his 100th birthday and retirement after eight terms in the Senate.
According to the transcript of his remarks in the Congressional Record, Mr. Lieberman called Mr. Thurmond "an institution within an institution" and praised his life's work in the Senate.
Mr. Lieberman's campaign spokesman, Jano Cabrera, said the senator's remarks were made in the context of an organized tribute by senators of both parties to a departing colleague.
"He did not call Strom Thurmond a great American. He was not in attendance at the birthday party, and he in fact made clear that he repudiated Thurmond's segregationist views," Mr. Cabrera said.
Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, did attend the December birthday party and lost his post as incoming majority leader in the political furor over remarks he made that seemed to support the segregationist stance of the Dixiecrats.
Mr. Jackson's critical remarks suggest that Mr. Lieberman still has problems in the black community problems that rose to the surface in 2000 when Mr. Gore made him the vice-presidential nominee.
Although other civil rights activists also defended Mr. Lieberman, some said they understood the depth of Maynard Jackson's concern about his tribute to Mr. Thurmond.
"I can understand Maynard Jackson's feeling about Thurmond and what happened in the past. Obviously with Maynard that's something that has affected him. There could be some [others]," said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way.


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