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Congressional Black Caucus Struggles to Maintain Influence After Nov. 2

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By Charles D. Ellison, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

The political landscape changed dramatically on Nov. 2 for Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., the audacious, skip-to-his-own-beat Philadelphia lawmaker hoping for tightened polls that evening — just enough to hold off an expected Republican takeover of the House.

His original plan was to embark on an ambitious, long shot bid for Chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, overseeing $1.4 trillion in discretionary funding and finding ways to push education as a top priority.

As the Grand Old Party amassed big gains that night, plans changed.

That didn’t really deter Fattah from his dream to run things on “Approps” as Capitol Hill rats affectionately abbreviate it. He simply went into minority ranking member mode, still intent on openly defying the Democratic Party’s Congressional seniority system.

Selection based on years served seemed like a simple formula long observed by Democrats. It worked to the favor of the quiet and senescent Rep. Norm Dicks, D-WA, who was next in line after retiring Appropriations Chair Rep. David Obey, D-WI.

Hopes for ranking member glory were dashed, however, when Fattah’s own Congressional Black Caucus gave the appearance of an endorsement for Dicks, who is White and has served in the House since 1976. It was a saddening and unexpected blow to Fattah, himself a longtime CBC Member.

“Members of the Congressional Black Caucus strongly support maintaining the seniority system for selecting committee leadership. The seniority system has served the Democratic Caucus well and has ushered in an era of diverse committee leadership, which is an asset to our party and our nation,” current CBC Chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said in a statement released by POLITICO.

But, CBC spokesman J. Jioni Palmer disputes the authenticity of that statement. Dismissive of the reports and flatly denying any Caucus endorsement of Dicks, Palmer seemed annoyed by the question. “Reporters don’t know everything,” he retorted.

Still, observers argue that it makes sense, a shrewd and calculated move by the Caucus to ensure the integrity of the seniority system. Without it, many CBC Members wouldn’t have had their chance to chair influential committees: from Bennie Thompson, D-MI, on Homeland Security to Charlie Rangel, D-NY, formerly chairing Ways and Means.

The venerable Rep. John Conyers, D-MI, is still stone locked into Judiciary and Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-NY, held on as Chair of Government Reform. Turning on a native son to save the family seemed like an essential move since many CBC Members have been in the Congress long enough to assume an impressive number of leadership roles on influential committees.

At the end of the Democratic-led 111th Congress, there are four CBC House Committee Chairs and 18 subcommittee chairs. When Republicans take control in January, most — if not all — will transition into the Ranking Member role.

Fattah, however, was congratulatory in a statement on Dicks’ win. “I look forward to working with him and our colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to advance an agenda for the American people. I know that our leadership team, led by Norm, will be united as we head into the 112th Congress.”

And, in a conversation with the Tribune, he seemed pleased with his conciliation prize: ranking member of House Appropriation’s subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, a decent look worth $70 billion in discretionary funding and a chance to transcend the urban politics typically associated with Philly’s most senior Congressional Member.

“Competition is a good thing,” said Fattah, particularly jovial that the controversial tax cut deal he endorsed in opposition to the CBC was about to pass.

But, the CBC remains in a state of constant, traumatic flux, struggling to regain or maintain influence on a scarred post-midterm battlefield. After weeks of uncertainty and a mountain of speculation, Towns suddenly withdrew himself from consideration as Ranking Member of the Government Reform Committee.

It was a move contradicting earlier stands from weeks before when Towns insisted he would take on incoming Republican Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the ambitious California pol vowing to conduct non-stop, Eliot Ness-like investigations into White House inner workings and other issues stirring the Beltway gossip pot.

Towns had promised a spirited defense of the administration as Ranking Member, at times using Brooklyn brawl vernacular and political threats. But, there were lingering doubts from both House Democratic leaders and the White House that Towns would not be aggressive enough, citing examples when Issa appeared to best the low key New York Congressman.

That suddenly left two CBC ranking members on powerful House Committees: Thompson on Homeland Security and founding Member Conyers on Judiciary. Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Towns’ New York delegation member, was poised to fill the spot with little noise made.

But, in a recent 119-61 caucus vote, Democrats made the unusual move of confirming Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-MD, as ranking member, another CBC member only one step behind Maloney who — like Fattah — seemed happy to buck the seniority system.

Again, the CBC’s spot was blown. Would they go with the natural choice of Cummings, the most senior African American Member from Maryland or would party loyalty reign supreme?

The vote was significant considering Democrats typically observe the seniority system. And Maloney was reportedly “bitter” about the vote, expecting CBC compliance with party rule.

But, Hill sources expressed frustration with Towns leadership as Chair of the Committee during the last two sessions of Congress. Administration officials feared the Brooklyn lawmaker would not be able to withstand the onslaught of inquiries expected from Issa.

However, Democrats saw an immediate opportunity once Cummings announced his plan to run: a proven Baltimore brawler willing to box and undercut Republicans when needed. Many quietly considered Maloney as somewhat soft and unfocused.

“He will not out-work me and he will not out-maneuver me,” Cummings reportedly said about Issa during conversations with Democratic colleagues before the vote. “I come from a tough place.”

With the selection of Cummings as ranking member and Issa chairing, observers predict Government Reform will be one of the more bombastic in recent memory given the reputations of both lawmakers.

Issa is the clean-cut and disarmingly affable, yet unapologetic conservative livewire who refers to the Obama Administration as “corrupt and arrogant.” To the left of the ring is Cummings, a well-known “bulldog” and fierce legislator legendary for his keep-it-real style and famous blasting of Committee hearing witnesses. Both are expected to battle for Committee microphone as the 112th Congress gets underway with Republicans eager to flex political muscle into the next election cycle.

“I think we’ve got to hold this administration to a high standard,” said Cummings to reporters after the vote. “But at the same time, we’ve got to be fair, we’ve got to be reasonable and we cannot abuse the process.” The Maryland Congressman referred to a time during the Clinton Administration when Republicans were in power and “… it seemed like we had a new investigation every few weeks.”

When asked how Issa would chair the Committee in the new political climate, spokesman Frederick Hill responded that “rigorous government oversight is something that’s going to happen.”

“Being a tough watchdog and being collegial is mutually exclusive,” said Hill in describing the relationship between Cummings and Issa.

Would Issa use Government Reform as a political leveraging tool, dangling the prospect of fewer subpoenas as a way to gain concessions from House Democrats and the White House? Hill refutes that: “The top concern here is what can government do differently that can get this economy back on track.”

Congress Delivers President Obama a Christmas Stocking of Mixed Partisan Blessings

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspaper –

Senate Democrats on Dec. 18 voted to repeal the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” ban on gays in the military. Republicans, however, continued their attempts to amend the arms control START Treaty while successfully blocking the immigration reform DREAM Act.

The measures were issues on which Obama issued campaign pledges during the 2008 presidential campaign. He had promised to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy governing homosexuality disclosure in the military, and to revise both immigration policy and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia.

The Senate voted 65 to 31 for a procedural measure that will begin the process of repealing the 17 year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a measure that the president said he will sign in the next few days.

In a letter, Obama thanked his Democratic colleagues and others for fighting hard to get the legislation passed.

"When that bill reaches my desk, I will sign it, and this discriminatory law will be repealed," Obama said. "Gay and lesbian service members -- brave Americans who enable our freedoms -- will no longer have to hide who they are. The fight for civil rights, a struggle that continues, will no longer include this one."

The last days of the 111th Congress reflect the storm-tossed nature of Obama’s first two years in office.

He’s made some key progress on economic recovery and health care reform, but has also seen Republicans use the lack of job growth against his party as the GOP took the House back in the 2010 mid-term elections.

On Dec. 18, the scoreboard was mixed for the president. The DREAM Act, which would have laid out a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands illegal immigrants through higher education or military service, failed to reach the Senate floor for debate. The Senate voted 55 to 41 to move the bill forward, but fell five votes shy of the 60 votes needed to bring it to the Senate floor for debate.

“I am disappointed that a small minority in the Senate continues to block the DREAM Act from consideration,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, in a statement. “This is important legislation that started out with bipartisan support but, despite substantive changes, has been twisted into something it is not. This is a compassionate bill that recognizes that we should not hold innocent children responsible for the sins of their parents.”

But Senate Democrats were able to orchestrate a limited victory for Obama on the START treaty, voting 59 to 37 to remove language from the proposed pact with Russia, a move that will allow Senate debate on the treaty to get underway.

The treaty would establish new guidelines between the two countries for inspection of nuclear weapons, and limit the stockpiles the U.S. and Russia would be allowed to keep to 1,550 warheads and 700 launchers each.

The treaty passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last September. The president had indicated the Senate would take up debate of the treaty before the end of the year, but since the measure failed to progress the president is now forced to face the prospect of his administration having to maneuver through a more hostile Senate in the 112th Congress.

Charlotte, NC Council Member's New Role is National

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By Michaela L. Duckett, Special to the NNPA from The Charlotte Post –

Charlotte (NC) City Council member James Mitchell represents more than District 2 in northwest Charlotte; he’s the voice of more than 218 million Americans.

Mitchell is the new president of the National League of Cities (NLC), the nation’s oldest and largest organization representing 19,000 cities, towns, and villages across the nation.

With a mission of strengthening and promoting cities as centers of opportunity, leadership, and governance, the NLC serves as a resource and advocate for municipal governments.

“It is humbling that you are the representative for all elected officials throughout the country, and it is kind of daunting because it is a big responsibility,” he said. “In these tough economic times, cities are struggling. Revenues have fallen. Yet, the demand for services has increased.”

Mitchell will spend a great deal of his one-year term racking up frequent flyer miles, traveling back and forth to Washington, D.C., three to four times each month to discuss urban policy with members of the Obama administration. “I will spend a lot of time in D.C. lobbying and speaking on how cities and towns need to be the center of all bills passed in Congress,” he said.

This week alone, Mithcell’s schedule included meetings with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-NC, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY. He also attended the president’s annual holiday party along with Mayor Anthony Foxx.

As NLC president, Mitchell will be charged with leading the league’s board of directors in shaping the organization’s priorities and directing advocacy, research, and membership activities.

Mitchell said his top priority is small business development. When he unveils his platform in January, Mitchell plans to announce initiatives that will help entrepreneurs gain more access to capital and advocate for tax breaks to help small business owners create jobs and venture opportunities.

He also plans to tackle the issues of economic development, sustainability, transportation, and infrastructure improvement, and immigration.

“If we as the National League of Cities do not take a proactive step in addressing immigration, then this issue can really continue to divide our country,” he said. “We need some of our leaders to step up and come up with some solutions.”

Mitchell said his role provides him with an opportunity to increase Charlotte’s visibility and increase the city’s profile on a national level. He believes Charlotte is a model for the country because it exemplifies a city thriving in the midst of economic turmoil. “We are fortunate that Charlotte has not had some of the fiscal challenges that other cities have,” he said.

Mitchell is in his sixth term on City Council. He chairs the Restructuring Government Committee and is vice chair of Economic Development and Planning and Housing and Neighborhood Developing committees. “Locally, I am trying to practice what I preach on a national level,” he said.

Mitchell has also created a National League of Cities president cabinet of 10 students majoring in public administration and political science at Johnson C. Smith University. They will accompany Mitchell to Washington in January and get hands on experience engaging in studying the impact of public policy. “That has been my legacy. As I move up, I try to bring people with me,” he said.

Civil Rights Groups Sign Ground Breaking Agreement With Comcast, NBC Universal

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspaper –

The NAACP, National Urban League, and National Action Network announced an agreement with Comcast and NBC Universal to expand current diversity initiatives intended to increase diversity in a wide range of areas including programming and employment.

The Memorandum of Understanding, filed on Dec. 17 with the Federal Communications Commission, creates initiatives to improve diversity in the areas of corporate governance, employment/workforce recruitment and retention, procurement, programming, and philanthropy and community investments.

“The NAACP stands with the National Urban League and the National Action Network in applauding Comcast and NBC Universal for committing to this memorandum of understanding,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “This agreement demonstrates the power of partnership and collaboration. We look forward to working closely with Comcast and NBC Universal and commend them for their corporate leadership in embracing the rich diversity of our nation. Business models that incorporate the importance of diversity increase prosperity and strengthen our economy. Ultimately, we must work together to create one America.”

“This agreement represents a positive step in the right direction for the principle of diversity, inclusion and economic opportunity,” said Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. “We applaud Comcast and NBC Universal for its willingness to enter into written commitments toward the goal of building a first-class communications concern. We thank them for their insight and commitment.”

"This historic agreement is a template for how major corporations should commit to concrete ways they will make equity and fairness part of their business plan. This agreement supports workers, businesses, artists, and charities in our community. It is a major step toward changing the corporate culture in how it relates to our community and will help define 21st century Civil Rights,” stated National Action Network President Rev. Al Sharpton.

Highlights of Comcast and NBC Universal’s diversity commitments include:

Adding at least eight new independently owned and operated networks where minorities have substantial participation either through ownership or operational control will be launched.

Establishing a $20 million venture capital fund intended to expand opportunities for minority entrepreneurs in the development of new digital media applications.

Creating Diversity Advisory Councils, including an African American Advisory Council, to facilitate open communication over the development, monitoring, and evaluation of diversity initiatives and to provide advice to senior executives.

Enhancing minority participation in news and public affairs programming.

Expanding investment priorities, including the building of tomorrow’s leaders, the expansion of digital literacy, and the promotion of community service.

Increasing philanthropic efforts to African American led and African American-serving institutions.

"We are proud to partner with these outstanding leaders of the African American community on this Memorandum of Understanding," said David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation. "This comprehensive commitment resulting from the Comcast NBC Universal transaction will bring key benefits in the areas of programming, investment and procurement. We look forward to continuing and deepening our relationships with these organizations and the broader African American community, as well as with other diverse communities with whom we are entering similar commitments."

“We are delighted to be working with the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Action Network as we further our shared goal of diversity in both the workplace and in the media,” commented Paula Madison, Executive Vice President, Diversity, NBC Universal. “We are also proud to be able to build on NBC Universal’s considerable progress over the past few years, and to accelerate the momentum of our commitments to minority ownership, expanded diversity programs, philanthropic efforts targeting under-served and diverse communities, and diversity among our suppliers.”

D.C. Post Office Named after Civil Rights Icon Dorothy Height

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspaper –

President Barack Obama recently signed a bill that names the United States Postal Service office in Washington D.C. after civil rights pioneer Dorothy Height.

On Dec. 15, Obama signed into order H.R. 6118, which renames the United States Postal Service facility located on Massachusetts Avenue in northeast D.C. as the Dorothy I. Height Post Office. The bill passed the House last September and passed the Senate earlier this month.

"This bill, marking it the first time a federal building in the nation's capital has been named for an African American woman, is cause for celebration," D.C. Non-Voting Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said in a statement. "Dorothy Height was an icon for social justice who lived here, and the Congress has recognized that she deserves a visible place of honor and distinction in the nation's capital. Renaming the post office next to Union Station will remind D.C. and the nation alike of the achievements of one of America's great women."

In addition to being a celebrated civil rights leader, Height also served as the Chair Emerita of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). While working with the NCNW, she devoted much of her energy to attempting to improve quality of life issues for Black women and their families, impacting education, health, and economic empowerment.

In 1994 President Bill Clinton awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Height died at Howard University Hospital of natural causes on April 20, 2010. She was 98.

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