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Groups Say Billboards are an Attempt to Suppress the Vote

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Special to the NNPA from The Milwaukee Community Journal –

Community leaders from 11 civil rights, labor, political, and faith-based organizations denounced a “crass effort” by an undisclosed right-wing source to suppress the vote in Milwaukee using billboards that warn against engaging in voter fraud.

These leaders said the motive of the anonymous effort is “voter suppression plot” to discourage qualified voters from exercising their democratic rights.

Speakers from the Milwaukee organizations, including 9 to 5, the NAACP, the Sherman Park Neighborhood Association, SEIU Local One and MICAH, demanded that Clear Channel, the company that owns the billboards, take them down and disclose the organization or individuals who are funding them.

The billboards show three individuals (a Black male, a White and a Latino female) behind jail bars. At the top, the billboard reads: “Voter Fraud is a Felony!” At the bottom it warns violators will receive three years in prison and $10,000 in fines if they engage in the activity. One of the figures in the ad, the White female, says: “We voted illegally.” The groups at the protest called on state and federal authorities to “investigate immediately.”

“The myth that there is widespread voter fraud has been propagated by the far right to discourage voting by underrepresented groups that need to have their voices heard in our democracy,” said Matt Brusky, director of the Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Project. The Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Project is part of the Citizen Action of Wisconsin, which organized the protest that took place in front of one of the billboards.

“This is a blatant effort to use scare tactics against minority voters who, more often than not, have to be encouraged to participate in the electoral process and exercise their right to vote,” said Angie Bucio, a board member of Voces de la Frontera Action. “Linking minorities with criminals is a racist strategy to suppress their vote and indicates a potential threat to clean elections in November,” said Bucio.

“Our community desperately needs more involvement in civic life, including important elections,” said Jayme Montgomery-Baker, executive director of the League of Young Voters. “It is appalling that someone would attempt to suppress the vote in our community with these signs and other tactics,” Montgomery-Baker said.

NAACP's Jealous Recognized by Time Magazine

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers (DC) –

NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous received two honors recently as he was named among Time magazine's “40 Under 40 Rising Stars of U.S. Politics” and one of the “Top 50 people of Power and Influence” by The NonProfit Times.

“The NAACP congratulates President Benjamin Todd Jealous on making the Time magazine ‘40 Under 40’ and The NonProfit Times’ ‘Power and Influence Top 50’ lists,” NAACP Board of Directors Chairman Roslyn Brock said in a statement.

“In a little over two years, President Jealous has led the Association in tackling some of the hardest issues facing the American public, including healthcare reform, the financial crisis and predatory lending. His hard work and commitment to justice allows the Association to continue in the struggle for better jobs, education and equality for all Americans."

Jealous, who is a former Executive Director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, was included in the first group of rising political stars ever singled out by Time in a feature to be published in the issue dated Oct. 23.

In August, he was named, along with AARP CEO Barry Rand, among the 50 most powerful and influential leaders in the non-profit arena.

Public service has been at the center of Jealous’ life since early adulthood. As a Columbia University student and community organizer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he helped organize boycotts and pickets for homeless rights, a campaign to save financial aid programs, and led a battle over environmental issues against the university.

His activism triggered a suspension from Columbia. He was re-admitted and later won a Rhodes Scholarship but during the time away from Columbia, he was an activist in Mississippi, where he was at the heart of a fight to protect the continued existence of two of the state's three public HBCU's and helped expose corruption at the state prison in Parchman.

He is on the board of directors of the California Council for the Humanities, the Association of Black Foundation Executives and the Asia Society.

Judge Williams' 'White boys' Comment Spurs Action, DA Investigates

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By Christian Morrow, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala said he would investigate concerns of racial bias raised after Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams Jr. refused a plea agreement last week.

Williams made national headlines when he declined a plea deal for a first time offender because he said prosecutors only make those deals for “White boys.”

Williams, who recused himself from the case, declined to talk to the New Pittsburgh Courier regarding his statement.

“I don’t see a racial component here, but if a judge raises the issue, it’s incumbent upon me to look into it,” said Zappala.

“Judge Williams is in a responsible position, so we take this seriously.”

Williams made his comments Oct. 5 when presented with a plea deal for Jeffery McGowan, 24, of Franklin Park, who had initially been charged with aggravated assault for putting his hands on a police officer after a traffic stop. The plea was to reduce the charge to disorderly conduct.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, when presented with the plea agreement, Williams said prosecutor Brian Catanzarite “comes up with, I think, ridiculous pleas whenever it’s a young White guy.”

“I’m just telling you what my observation is,” said Williams. “If this had been a Black kid who did the same thing, we wouldn’t be talking about three months probation.” When defense attorney Giuseppe Roselli asked if he was rejecting the plea because McGowan is White, Williams reportedly said it wasn’t because he is White but because “it’s a ridiculous plea that only goes to White boys that come into this court for the same facts, and I’m not going for it.”

After Williams’ recusal, McGowan’s case was assigned to Judge Randy Todd, who approved the plea deal.

Zappala said as a result he has asked President Judge Jeffrey Manning to add a defendant’s race and gender to the criteria examined during the case review proceedings. Currently, he said, a committee that includes the president judge, administrative judges, representatives from Zappala’s office, county police Superintendent Charles Moffat’s office, and jail Warden Ramone Rustin’s office randomly selects cases to examine for errors. “They look at things like was there a line-up, fingerprints, was scientific evidence collected, were proper procedures followed,” Zappala said. “I’ve asked Judge Manning to add race and gender to those criteria.”

Williams’ remarks were reported by MSNBC, and shortly after it spread across the Internet. Though conservative website commenters generally chided Williams for the appearance of bias, Internet commentary was entirely negative. vA veteran Philadelphia police officer, who runs a blog using the name Wyatt Earp, said though Williams probably should not have made his remarks in open court, he is right: “Deals like these would usually be offered to White defendants before Black ones, but a district attorney worth his salt would ask the officer before offering the pleas—especially in an assault on police case. The district attorney in this case is not a racist; he’s just trying to raise his clearance rate. I don’t think Judge Williams is a racist, either.”

Most local attorneys and judges contacted by the New Pittsburgh Courier declined comment on Williams’ remarks. Attorney Paul Ellis, however, said he sees nothing wrong with Williams making his remarks in open court.

“The bias and adverse impact in the criminal justice system is well known and well documented, so he can’t be blamed for making an observation,” said Ellis. “I think it took courage to say it. I’ve known Joe for years, and there’s no way he’s racist. While people can debate the choice of venue for his remarks, the substance of what he said was accurate. If that’s where the injustice takes place, why not speak there.”

Likewise, Senior Magisterial District Judge Edward Tibbs doesn’t have a problem with Williams speaking out in court, recalling that former President Judge Robert Dauer complained about problems with the system in court all the time.

“I respect Judge Williams, it’s his opinion. I’m sure there are those who agree and those who don’t, but it’s a man-made system, so it needs some work from time to time,” he said. “If a judge sees a problem with any part of the system, it should be addressed. For him to have made that remarks, it must have been bothering him for some time.”

Williams, 58, is the only African-American judge in the Common Pleas Criminal Division. He won election to a full term last November after being appointed by Gov. Edward G. Rendell to fill the unexpired term of (now) Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen.


Strong Black Turnout Could Determine Outcomes of Key Races

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Special to the NNPA from the Joint Center of Political and Economic Studies –

Less than three weeks before Election Day, a new analysis shows that African American voters are strategically located in states and districts where, if they turn out in substantial numbers, they could make a difference in who controls the House, the Senate, and up to 14 governorships.

The report, In Anticipation of November 2: Black Voters and Candidates and the 2010 Midterm Elections, was released by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a leading authority on the black electorate that has consistently surveyed and reported on the opinions of African Americans since 1970.

The analysis was conducted by David A. Bositis, Ph.D., Senior Political Analyst at the Joint Center, and discussed with a standing room only roundtable of journalists and other political organizations in Washington, D.C. Dr. Bositis said this election could echo mid-term elections in 1986, when significant Black turnout helped Democrats gain House seats and take control of the Senate, and again in 1998, when Democrats picked up governorships in Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia. “There are 20 House seats and 14 Senate seats in addition to 14 gubernatorial races where the Black vote has the potential to determine the outcome of this year’s elections,” Dr. Bositis said.

Widespread predictions that Democrats will endure sweeping losses may be premature, if party leaders are abel to play a strong ground game that includes persuading African Americans to go to the polls in greater numbers than they have in some other mid-term elections, added Dr. Bositis. “The extent of the Democrats' losses will depend on their ability to turn out their most loyal voters, and no voting bloc will be more important to them than African Americans. If they can mobilize a strong Black turnout, the Democrats can significantly reduce their potential losses,” Dr. Bositis said.

“It is clear from this analysis that we have not reached the final chapter of the election story in many key states and Congressional districts, and that African American voters could end up being the authors of events, if they match their turnout rates from other recent mid-term elections,” said Joint Center President and Chief Executive Officer Ralph B. Everett who moderated the roundtable discussion.

Dr. Ruy Teixeira, Senior Fellow with The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress, a renowned political demographer who participated on the panel commented, “This election isn't over yet. While the so-called likely voter poll results look exceptionally bad for the Democrats, it should be remembered that likely voters at this point in the campaign are just a guess as to who will show up on Election Day.”

The report is available on the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ website at www.jointcenter.org.

President Obama Courts Black Votes for November Elections

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By Zenitha Prince, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers (DC) –

The ethics trials for U.S. Reps. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., have been set for after the elections on Nov. 15 and Nov. 29, respectively. The announcement, made late last week, prompted the ire of at least one Republican, who said it was motivated by politics.

“This is obviously being pushed back to avoid negative publicity before the Nov. 2 elections,” said Illinois Republican Timothy Johnson in a statement. “If the accused were Republicans, I have no doubt the timing would be different.”

But political analysts and observers said holding the hearings any earlier would have little to no impact on the incumbents’ success at the polls because their majority-Black constituencies would vote for them.

“Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters would have to get in an Eddie Long scandal for voters not to vote for them; they’re set,” said Jason Johnson, professor of political science at Hiram College in Ohio. And other members of the Congressional Black Caucus are also set, Johnson added. “Ultimately, it’s a very small bubble they’re operating in. Black people in these districts think, ‘These folks (lawmakers) may be old and [maybe] corrupt, but that’s all we have.”

The importance of the Black vote in re-electing Black Capitol Hill lawmakers or even adding to the ranks—there’s the potential to pick up House seats in states such as Louisiana, Arkansas, Illinois, Alabama and Florida—pales in comparison to its impact on several gubernatorial races, political experts say. Black voters can be the saviors of the Democratic Party in several of the 37 contests.

“If Black people don’t turn out and vote, a lot of Democrats don’t keep their jobs,” Johnson told the AFRO. He added, “The Mid-west is the most dangerous area for Democrats to lose governorships. [For example,] Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan all look like they can go Republican and these are critical ‘blue’ states.

“These are all places where Black voters are key.”

At stake for Democrats—especially the White House—is the political strength needed to enact policies at the federal and state level, said Democrat Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who represents the Fourth Congressional District in Maryland, another battleground where Black voters can determine whether Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is re-elected or usurped by Republican candidate, former Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

“An energized and activated Black electorate in the Fourth Congressional District in Maryland could make a difference in our election for governor; it could make a difference in the direction of our state,” Edwards said, using the 2010 census and its resulting redistricting process—which determines political representation—as an example. “What happens going into these governor’s races is important to how we’re represented and where these lines are drawn for our representation.”

The centrality of Black voters to Democratic hopes was confirmed last week by President Barack Obama’s personal appeal at a rally at Bowie State University, located in one of the state’s majority-Black counties.

“Right now you have pundits saying the other party’s supporters are more excited,” Obama said. “They’re saying they’ll turn out [to vote] in higher numbers. They’re saying that all of us who worked so hard in 2008 might not be as pumped up, might not be as energized or might not care as much. Maryland, I think the pundits are wrong, but it’s up to you to prove them wrong. Don’t make me look bad now.”

While Obama has a whopping approval rating of 87 percent among African-American voters, some political observers question whether the president can draw them to the polls as he did in 2008. Given the disproportionate toll the recession has wielded on Blacks—a community devastated by foreclosures and by a punishing 16.1 percent unemployment rate—many may feel like Velma Hart, who told President Obama in a town-hall meeting last month that she was "exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now."

Johnson said, “People are confusing and have confused a political campaign with a political movement—campaigns end. What people seemed to believe is that kind of excitement and fervor would continue forever, but it can’t. So, what you have is disaffected African Americans; White liberals who are angry because ‘he didn’t give us “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the public option [in health care]; ‘Black political elites, who are saying, ‘He lost us on that Shirley Sherrod thing’…. People’s expectations were way too high.”

Among her constituents and those of the other CBC members, Edwards said, “People are understandably frustrated with the pace of change and with the state of the economy and I think that has had a tremendous effect on concerns about voter turnout and the strength of the electorate going into the mid-term elections.”

However, she added, she believes voters will turn out and will vote to give the president a chance to live up to his promises.

“[Black voters] have been really concerned about the obvious backlash against this president and are looking at casting their vote in this mid-term election as a statement of support for President Obama,” she said. “We want to send a really strong message into Washington that we support the direction this president is going and we didn’t think it was just about 2008, we know it’s about 2010 and we also know it’s about continuing these policies.”

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