- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

One current and one recent Florida county director for the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization have switched party designations from Democrat to Republican, showing some of the first signs that the Republican Party’s efforts to reach out to blacks are working.

Darryl E. Rouson, recent past president of St. Petersburg chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Derrick Wallace, Orange County chapter president, both have registered Republican in the past two months.

The announcements were seen as a boon for state and national Republicans eagerly seeking allies in efforts to reach out to the black community, but the two men said their decisions to switch party affiliation were based on the local political and business landscape.

Mr. Rouson, a lifelong Democrat, worked on the 1998 re-election campaign of Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Illinois Democrat, before returning to private practice in 1999 and registering as an independent.

He said he made his decision after examining the Democratic Party’s recent history in the state.

“I saw that the mayor for eight years here in Pinellas County, who was a Democrat, had given only lip service to inner-city economic development,” he said.

The current Republican mayor, Rick Baker who was re-elected two weeks ago with 90 percent of the black vote, gave immediate attention to development and worked closely with black businessmen, Mr. Rouson said.

Mr. Rouson, who stepped down as chapter president in September just weeks before joining the party, said he also learned that not one black person had been appointed to the circuit court bench in 24 years under Democratic governors.

“[Gov. Jeb] Bush nominated two of the three serving now out of 55 judicial seats,” he said.

“As a people, if 50 percent of the black population was in each party we would be getting a whole lot more than we are getting now, but because we are 85 percent in one party, when Republicans are in power we are a beggar race,” he said. “And when the Democrats are in power we are a beggar race, because they take us for granted.”

Ken Mehlman, Republican National Committee chairman, was in Florida during the summer to address Florida businessmen and community groups as a part of his “Give Us a Chance and We’ll Give You a Choice” outreach tour with minorities.

State party officials said the outreach is building on gains already visible from the black community.

“African-American support for President Bush doubled from 2000 to 2004,” said Camille Anderson, spokeswoman for the Florida Republican Party.

Neither Mr. Rouson or Mr. Wallace is pursuing politics or national attention.

Mr. Wallace’s Orange County branch has become the state’s largest since he took over in January.

The Orlando Sentinel quoted him as saying that changing parties was a “business decision,” but he emphasized that he did not mean a move to expand his construction business as critics have charged.

“When I say it was a business decision, I don’t mean for me. I mean I am a business person and think in a businesslike manner,” Mr. Wallace said.

“African-Americans have to understand that we have to be more strategic in our approach. We can’t afford not to work with people because of their political party,” he said.

He said the NAACP in Orlando tended to “overemphasize social issues” without focusing on building the economic base to pay for programs when government aid is unavailable or denied.

Mr. Wallace said he learned — as the owner of Construction Two Group, one of the largest in Central Florida, and as a board member with the Orlando Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission — that expanding clientele and developing investors and partnerships are the only ways to survive in business and that the political realm is no different.

He said he had plenty of business as a Democrat.

“We needed someone to make the strategic alliances so that others can benefit in terms of getting contracts, services and economic development. … Somebody had to step across the line and offer the opportunity to connect with the black community,” Mr. Wallace said.

“I guess this is a radical move to some, but for me it is an advantageous move for what I can do for my community.”

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