This is the first in a series of one-on-one conversations with 2010 D.C. candidates who are running against incumbents.
Leo Alexander has a message for voters who aren’t holding up their end of the civil rights bargain.
“End generational poverty.”
He also has a solution.
“Fix broken families.”
He has a tough political row to hoe, too.
Mr. Alexander, a Democrat who is maintaining a distant third place in the primary race for D.C. mayor, has a shallow war chest, few endorsements of consequence and a position on some social issues that’s more akin to Stop ERA crusader Phyllis Schlafly than those of his liberal rivals.
He is the only candidate in any D.C. race to be endorsed by Mrs. Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and he had only $701 in campaign funds during the June reporting period. He has been called a spoiler in what otherwise would be a two-way race, but don’t talk to Mr. Alexander about stepping aside prior to the Sept. 14 primary.
A former TV reporter and D.C. government spokesman, Mr. Alexander, 46, said he’s in the race for the long haul on behalf of voters struggling to restore the roots of the city.
He talks about the sights and sounds of communities that he has covered over the years. The ravages of crack. The Washington Times reporter who was assaulted by a charter-school principal. Nightly violence. City Hall scandals. Bleak neighborhoods with no hope of change. The overcrowded emergency rooms at D.C. General Hospital, where he served as spokesman. Families he interviewed for news stories that had been crammed into public housing for two or three generations.
It’s that loss of human capital that sets him on edge and easily could lead a listener to view him as an angry black male. But he is more anxious than angry.
His chosen path appears to be more about Christian-like redemption than political reckoning.
“Look, Deborah, the roots of the city are broken and decaying,” Mr. Alexander said in a recent interview at his campaign headquarters in Northeast. “My [maternal] grandmother used to say, ‘If the root is broken, the fruit is going to be spoiled.’ We’re not going at the root of the problem.”
The “spoiled” fruit includes nearly half of the city’s children being born into poverty, high illiteracy rates among teens and adults, the highest HIV rates in the nation, and most black males with criminal justice backgrounds.
“Those are Third World demographics,” he says.
His chief Democratic opponents, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, cite similar socioeconomic factors when making a case for adding hundreds of millions dollars each year to the city’s budget to bolster the safety net. But unlike Mr. Gray and Mr. Fenty, this Brooklyn, N.Y., native who was reared in Mobile, Ala., uses stinging rhetoric reminiscent of the 1960s.
“I think what’s been lost in the last 30 years is that we shifted anti-poverty programs to 2,000 miles away across the Atlantic instead of focusing here on the nation’s capital and around America,” says Mr. Alexander, 46, who is more student than child of the ‘60s.
The anti-poverty programs that liberals and progressives endorse, he says, have hurt, not helped, blacks.
“[President] Johnson’s war on poverty made welfare queens, and Nixon’s ‘Southern strategy’ [disenchanted] black conservatives. Reagan’s war on drugs and Bill Clinton’s NAFTA - welfare reform, three strikes and mandatory minimums … are political agendas. They are diabolical.”
These policies and laws, collectively, have led to “the breakdown of the family.”
Mr. Alexander adds, “I’m done with [President] Obama” over his support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which he denounces as an amnesty.
Mr. Alexander, who is a Baptist, says that if families are separated because of crackdowns on illegals, the families have his sympathy but not his support.
Illegals take jobs away from blacks, whites and others who want to and used to earn their own living, he says, but American workers have been “co-opted by this illegal community.”
When asked about economic development, health care, education and public safety, issues raised at forums and straw-poll events, Mr. Alexander again injects race.
“I’ve seen progress in the city and stagnation. I welcome the new taxpayers. What’s alarming to me is not so much the white influx but the absence of black businesses on U Street,” Mr. Alexander says.
On health care, he was blunt. “Diabetes, chronic illnesses and constant trauma are killing black people.”
And when it comes to the underlying causes of the socioeconomic ills?
Mr. Alexander swigs on a bottle of water and begins a soliloquy of his and the city’s past, present and future. He laments that blacks have gained political power only to compromise with white politicians to maintain the status quo of unwed mothers, children in fatherless homes and poverty rates in black America that are being passed from generation to generation.
“Grandmothers are forced to raised grandbabies because we failed them starting in the ‘80s,” he said.
“I was born poor. I quit the Cub Scouts because they had too many father-son affairs and mine wasn’t there. … We [black Americans] came up through a struggle. We used to question authority. They’re not questioning authority. They’re just rebelling. They’re not seeking their uncles and fathers in jobs. Who’s taking care of them? The government. [The older generation] doesn’t know how to pass the baton,” he said, concluding that “I’m running because I want to shake things up.”
Put gay marriage to a vote, he advocates.
Fix families and restore traditional values with a self-help approach, he urges.
He knows such positions make him sound like a black conservative, but Mr. Alexander doesn’t care.
He relishes the fact that he can speak his mind and says campaign donations come with a caveat.
“I’m unbought and unbossed,” he says. “I’m not going to sell my integrity.”