- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Three days after each was labeled “persona non grata” by the president of the NAACP, three Democratic White House candidates will address the group in an effort to make amends for missing its presidential forum.

Aides to Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio said they would travel to Miami Beach to address the NAACP convention today.

Leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People harshly criticized the three when they didn’t make it to the convention’s presidential forum Monday.

“If you expect us to believe that you could not find 90 minutes to come by and address the issues affecting our nation, then you have no legitimacy over the next nine months in our community,” NAACP President Kweisi Mfume told the convention before the forum.

“In essence, you now have become persona non grata. Your political capital is the equivalent of Confederate dollars,” he said.

The six Democrats who made the forum shared the stage with four empty chairs, each labeled with the name of a White House candidate who did not attend — Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Gephardt, Mr. Kucinich, and President Bush.

Black voters are an important constituency in Democratic primary politics, but Mr. Mfume has warned that their support should not be taken for granted. His rebuke came despite the support all three lawmakers have given to the NAACP’s causes in Congress.

Mr. Lieberman missed the forum for campaign events in New York and a television interview. Mr. Gephardt said he had a family obligation. Mr. Kucinich said he didn’t want to miss votes in the House.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat and the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, appealed to the NAACP on Mr. Kucinich’s behalf.

He said his colleague needed to make an important vote on prescription drugs for Medicare recipients and said NAACP members should not forget his “exemplary record.”

Lieberman spokesman Jano Cabrera said that shortly after Mr. Mfume’s remarks, Mr. Lieberman called him to try to repair the damage. The campaign continued negotiations over the next two days and arrangements were made yesterday for Mr. Lieberman to appear.

NAACP spokeswoman Sheila Douglas said last night that while the group’s officials had been talking to the campaigns of the candidates who did not appear, she did not have any further comment.

Mr. Bush attended an NAACP convention during his presidential campaign, but hasn’t been to one since then. During that 2000 campaign, the NAACP ran an ad with the daughter of Texas dragging-death victim James Byrd saying that Mr. Bush’s opposition to a hate-crimes bill was “like my father was killed all over again.”

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