Gubernatorial Candidates Ignore State’s Black Communities

By Larry Lee
Sacramento Observer General Manager

As the Nov. 2 General Election draws near, California gubernatorial candidates Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman have been aggressively trying to make the case as to why each one feels that they are the best person to lead the state for the next four years.

Ms. Whitman, a Republican, has spent an historically high amount of money to promote her campaign. The billionaire former eBay CEO has used more than $140 million of her personal fortune — a record for a U.S. candidate.

While her Democratic opponent hasn’t spent nearly as much, Brown, a former two-term California governor, has raised about $34 million since forming an exploratory committee last year.

And while the candidates are spending nearly $200 million on this campaign, there has been little — if any — outreach within the African American community for the very important position of governor. Virtually no advertising buys with African American media; little to no exposure with African American institutions such as Black churches or community based organizations; sparse communication with African American political leaders.

Thus, African American leaders throughout the state are asking one key question of the candidates: Why are Black voters being ignored?

“As a regular voter, it angers me when I see the Black vote being ignored,” wrote Jasmyne Cannick a Los Angeles-based political communications strategist.

“The gall of a candidate to think that they can run for office without talking to Black voters says to me that my community doesn’t matter, that I don’t matter, and neither does my vote,” she added.

Celes King IV, Vice Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality of California, said he was disappointed at the last gubernatorial debate by the seemingly lack of effort to by either candidate to speak to issues that would resonate with African American voters.

“It is dramatically clear that neither candidate put fourth any information that would cause one to be excited about casting their ballot on election day,” King said.

“I think that this final debate showed Californians that we will elect a care taker for the next four years and hope that we produce better choices on both sides of the isle in the next election,” he added.

The lack of outreach hasn’t been limited to one political party — although the wound seems to hurt more coming from Brown on the left side of the ticket.

Marion Woods, who was twice appointed by then-Gov. Brown, said that while Brown’s record of appointing African Americans to high-level positions in his administrations is legendary, he feels Brown has made some errors in this campaign.

“First and foremost Brown is a pragmatic politician. His pragmatism is his overriding personality trait,” said Woods, who was appointed (by Brown) Director, California Department of Benefit payments in 1975; and, also appointed Director, California Department of Social Services in 1977.

“As of the spring of 2009, 83 percent of African American California voters where registered Democrats. Only 8 percent of African Americans are registered Republicans. The pragmatic side of Brown’s campaign probably looked at these numbers and decided spending money to attract African American voters is a zero net sum gain,” Woods added.

Elihu Harris, like Brown, a former Mayor of Oakland, said Brown has not been very visible in the Bay Area.

Harris said African Americans in Oakland are “sitting on their hands,” waiting to see if either candidate steps up to speak to them.

“If (Brown) is not careful, he could repeat the mistakes of Tom Bradley,” Harris said, speaking about how the former Los Angeles Mayor twice failed in his attempt to become California’s first Black governor — largely by not reaching out to African American voters.

Ms. Whitman, however, has had little to no communications at all with African American voters.

Added Ms. Cannick, “To date, Whitman and Co. has ignored all requests from Black journalists for interviews. They’ve continued to tow the line ‘it’s in consideration’ with Black newspaper and radio stations when it comes to advertising.  No campaign events have taken place in traditional Black communities and unlike with her Latino and Asian voter wooing, there’s no South L.A. Meg Whitman for Governor campaign office.”

Ms. Whitman did create an “African Americans for Meg Coalition” just this week — 13 days before the election.

Sacramento’s Craig DeLuz, a political commentator and former chairman of the California Black Republican Council, was among the 25 people named to the Whitman coalition.

DeLuz said both parties are missing the boat when it comes to courting Black voters.

“Too often in statewide campaigns, the consultants write off the Black vote before the campaign even begins,” he said.

“Democrats figure they already have our vote, so they don’t need to do anything to get it. And Republicans figure they can’t get it, so why bother doing anything to try and get the Black vote,” he added.

“(Republicans) are focusing on broad messaging and maintaining the same talking points no matter who they are speaking to. This is not the most effective way to communicate, because it assumes that everyone you are talking to is coming from the same perspective,” DeLuz added.

When one looks at the obscene amount of money these candidates are spending, many leaders feel they have missed the mark by not utilizing African American media.

“Newspaper editorial pages are the moral compass of a community and the influencers of public policy.  Yet many politicians fail to respect the power of the African American vote by ignoring to advertise in the Black Press,” wrote John Warren, publisher of the San Diego Voice and Viewpoint.

“If people disrespect your Black Press, they disrespect you. Your local African American community newspaper reflects you and what people think of you,” Warren said in an editorial piece.

Black voter turnout has traditionally been good in the state when the community’s concerns have been recognized and voters encouraged to go to the polls. For this 2010 General Election, we shall see what happens.

The Court of Public Opinion