The Congressional Black Caucus has its eyes on the prize in 2004, and at the start of a Washington conference yesterday its foundation announced development of a questionnaire for the presidential candidates to inform black voters about them.
The foundation, a fund-raising arm of the all-Democrat, 39-member CBC, is generating the questionnaire to present to candidates in next year’s presidential election in hopes of keeping the aspiring presidents in line with its agenda.
The responses will serve as a guide for young black voters, said Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald of California.
“The purpose of these next four days is to look to the 2004 election,” said the congressman, whose Los Angeles-area district includes Compton. “We want people to know that the black vote is very strong.”
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who heads the CBC, said that while some are accusing the Democratic Party of tilting to the right, “We believe we should be at the center of people’s lives. We have to be the conscience of the country.”
As the Democrats laid plans to capture the White House, black Bush appointees convened at cocktail hour for “Fulfilling America’s Promise,” a soiree at the Capitol to celebrate their own achievements.
New Orleans Mayor and Urban League President Marc H. Morial lauded Bush administration efforts to recruit minorities.
“I want to salute the president for having the foresight to put these men and women in these positions,” Mr. Morial, a Democrat, told the crowd of about 200. “My goal is to work with anyone who wants to better the nation.”
Dorothy Height, past president of the National Council of Negro Women, agreed.
“I came because they said that African-Americans would be honored, and I am proud of what the African-Americans are doing,” she said.
Among those were Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson and Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Claude Allen.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, called the event a “very important” counter to the Congressional Black Caucus event.
“There are a lot of values that we share with African-Americans, and I believe we should be bringing in more young black people,” Mr. Hastert said.
The Bush administration has the most minority appointees in U.S. history, but the president is still persona non grata in much of the black community, which gave him a meager 8 percent of its vote in 2000.
The CBC Foundation, working with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, will compile the candidate questionnaire by surveying younger black voters, a group that polls have found to be straying from the Democratic Party.
The conference, which runs through Saturday, offers workshops touching on such topics as black women in politics, discrimination in the retail industry, reparations for slavery, racial disparities in health care and the color line in education.
A forum yesterday assailed President Bush’s faith-based initiative, which allows federal grants to go directly to churches for community-service programs.
The panel featured representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and two ministers who have been outspoken in their opposition to the Bush plan.
“The church that receives money from the state becomes obsessed with keeping that government grant,” said Marvin Silver, a D.C. minister active in a public advocacy group called Justice and Witness Ministries. “The commingling of funds could mean the church’s function suffers. And some churches become slaves to the government money.”
The Rev. Timothy McDonald of Atlanta accused the administration of using the faith-based plan to lure black voters.
The initiative “has everything to do with politics,” said Mr. McDonald, who is also a board member for the liberal People for the American Way. “It ain’t about compassion, feeding the poor or hungry black children.”