- The Washington Times - Friday, July 16, 2004

PHILADELPHIA — Sen. John Kerry began his speech before the NAACP’s conventioneers yesterday by showcasing the most prominent black name among his campaign leadership: former Clinton Cabinet member Alexis Herman.

Mr. Kerry said he has been “blessed, because over the last few weeks I have had the help, counsel and stewardship of a wonderful woman.” Ms. Herman, who was labor secretary in the Clinton administration, is now co-chairwoman of the Kerry campaign. She is one of several recent black hires by the Kerry organization, which has been criticized for its lack of minorities in its upper ranks.

The senator from Massachusetts reminded the crowd here that he was appearing before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People while his opponent, President Bush, snubbed the convention for the fourth straight year.

“I understand you have been having trouble getting some speakers,” Mr. Kerry said. “Some people may have better things to do.”

“The president may be too busy to speak to you now — but I’ve got news for you: He’s going to have plenty of time after November second,” the Massachusetts Democrat told the cheering convention.

Mr. Kerry noted, “As a campaigner, I know something about scheduling conflicts, but you know what? When you are president of the United States, you can pretty much say where you want to be and when. When you are president, you need to talk to all the people.”

Mr. Bush faced criticism throughout the convention, which ended yesterday, for refusing to address the NAACP during his presidency. In declining the invitation this year, Mr. Bush initially said it was a scheduling issue but later attributed his refusal to the ridicule he has received from some of the group’s leaders.

Mr. Kerry entered the ballroom from a small door at the back of the hall and worked his way through the enthusiastic crowd toward the stage to the beat of “We Are Family,” slapping and shaking hands.

His 50-minute speech addressed his approach to the NAACP’s legislative agenda, and Mr. Kerry promised to work toward reforms on racial profiling, hate crimes, health insurance, AIDS funding, and public school financing.

“We have a lot to talk about,” said Mr. Kerry, who has served in the U.S. Senate for 20 years. “When I look around this city, when I look around this country … see what so many of you see every day and which some of our people in Washington seem to be blind to. I see jobs to be created for all Americans, I see families to house, I see violence to stop, and I see children to teach.”

He told the crowd of several thousand that he and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, would “fight for a tax cut for all Americans and not just the wealthy.”

“The wealthiest Americans don’t need any more tax cuts, folks,” Mr. Kerry said. “Ninety-eight percent of Americans will get a tax cut under my plan. We’re going to help working families get ahead once again in America.”

He mentioned Mr. Edwards repeatedly and praised his vice-presidential pick effusively.

Democratic strategists hope that Mr. Edwards’ working-class background and Southern roots will help draw more black voters to the ticket.

“This is a man who has lived the struggle of the American middle class,” Mr. Kerry said of his running mate. “This is a man who saw his father go to the mills every single day. This is a man saw his mother go to the grocery store and work so that he could become what the American dream is about: the first in his family to graduate from college.”

To many in the crowd, Mr. Edwards is the star of the ticket.

“John Edwards represents energy and zest in contrast to John Kerry’s, how do we say, his more subdued nature,” said Mary Miller, a retired elementary school teacher from Philadelphia.

“John Edwards will help to get the African-American vote out there for Kerry,” added Betty Marshall, a retired cosmetologist from Farrell, Pa. “He’s from a working class family and he shows what hard work and diligence can accomplish.”

The speech comes as the Kerry campaign prepares a $2 million ad campaign directed at the black community. The ads boast of exactly what Mr. Kerry presented yesterday: his plans on job creation, health care and education.

Television ads will run on black cable networks such as BET and TV1, while print ads will hit black newspapers across the country.

Blacks make up around 11 percent of the voting age population in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mr. Kerry wrapped up his speech with a plea.

“My friends, this is the most important election of our lifetime,” he said. At stake, he said, are jobs, health care, the political composition of the Supreme Court and the country’s standing in the world.

“We cannot accept a repeat of 2000,” Mr. Kerry said.

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