- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Three Democratic presidential hopefuls have not agreed to appear at the National Urban League’s annual convention in Pittsburgh next week, putting them at risk of again being distanced from black voters, an overwhelmingly Democratic bloc.

President Bush and six Democrats have committed to speak at the nationally renowned black group’s convention Monday, the first gathering that includes both the Democratic aspirants and the president. Democratic Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Bob Graham of Florida and John Kerry of Massachusetts have not committed.

“It’s a great platform for Democrats, and it will give Bush an opportunity to give a record of what he did in Africa,” said Donna Brazile, who heads the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute.

“This is a very important speech to give, this is not a sound bite. And if they will be following Bush, they will be able to critique his speech.”

Democratic sources yesterday said several candidates had opted out of the gala until Sunday when The Washington Times reported that Mr. Bush would attend.

“All of them wanted to go, and some had already set the wheels in motion for it, but [the presidents appearance] made it more important,” said one Democrat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Several calls to the campaigns of Mr. Graham, Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Kerry were not returned. Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun, the two black candidates in the Democratic field, and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina pledged to appear at least a week ago.

A spokeswoman for the Urban League said that “in the last couple of days,” Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean had confirmed they would address the convention on Monday.

The Democratic candidates who will not attend are aware of the fallout. Last week, leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were outraged that Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Kucinich and Mr. Gephardt did not participate in a candidates forum at their convention in Miami Beach, Fla.

“In essence, you now have become persona non grata,” NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said of those Democrats. “Your political capital is the equivalent of Confederate dollars.”

All three dropped previous plans and flew to Miami Beach, where they apologized to an unreceptive audience on the last day of the convention.

Ninety percent of the black vote typically goes to Democrats.

A former Republican activist said Mr. Bush’s first appearance before a powerful black group since the Urban League’s 2001 convention demands the president speak on affirmative action, which he denounced in January.

“He has to explain the position that he took on the University of Michigan case, which has since been rejected by the Supreme Court,” said Faye Anderson, a New York-based communications consultant.

“When you skip these, it is always a missed opportunity” she said, referring to the president’s refusal to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus and other left-leaning minority organizations.

Mr. Bush last week skipped the NAACP convention for the third straight year. Mr. Mfume said this week that while he will not be able to attend the Urban League convention, “I am glad to know the president is going.”

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