[Marxism] Black voters respond to class issues
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Mon Apr 13 09:31:20 MDT 2009
NY Times, April 13, 2009
Black Voters Waver on Support for Paterson
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
ALBANY — When Gov. David A. Paterson met recently with a group of mostly
black legislators, he got an earful. They wanted to know his strategy
for recovering from his disastrous first year. They complained that
their constituents were furious over Mr. Paterson’s cuts to hospitals
and schools, and that his administration had failed to consult with them
on important issues.
It fell to the Rev. Al Sharpton, a Paterson confidant at the meeting, in
late March, to make peace. Better communication was needed, Mr. Sharpton
said, but he added that lawmakers should stand behind Mr. Paterson —
“The thing that the governor had to deal with is, there was only one
story getting out, and that was negative — even in the African-American
community,” Mr. Sharpton recalled.
In a sign of just how far Mr. Paterson’s fortunes have fallen, the
governor now faces growing doubts from a group that has been among his
most loyal: black elected officials, clergy members and voters.
It is a remarkable turnaround for a man whose ascension to the
governor’s office just over a year ago set off a swell of pride and joy
in black communities. Mr. Paterson became New York’s first black
governor and, along with Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, is one of only
two in the country.
Days after his elevation, Mr. Paterson was welcomed at a rally in
Harlem, which he had represented for years in the State Senate, with
standing ovations and cries of, “We love you, David.”
The disappointment expressed by some black voters in interviews appears
distinct from the more dominant critique of Mr. Paterson as ineffective
and lacking in focus. They cited Mr. Paterson’s efforts to remake
himself as a moderate, fiscally conservative politician, a break from
his beginnings as a liberal Democrat and defender of social programs.
As a result, the enthusiasm many African-Americans once felt has evaporated.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, fewer than
half of black voters in the state approve of how the governor is
handling his job, down from two-thirds last summer, reflecting a broader
decline among his core constituencies, including Democrats and New York
“To be below 50 percent among any group is bad,” said Maurice Carroll,
director of the university’s polling institute. “But there’s no way a
black governor can get re-elected when he’s below 50 percent among black
voters. That’s desperation time.”
Mr. Paterson has embarked on an aggressive effort to shore up his
standing among black voters and combat what some of his friends and
advisers see as overly negative press coverage of the governor.
In recent weeks, Mr. Paterson has spoken frequently at black churches,
and as part of a broader media blitz is appearing more often on black
and ethnic radio shows. Last Monday, he began an economic stimulus tour
— a Santa Claus-like week spent announcing projects that will be paid
for with federal stimulus aid — at a Harlem community center, where he
announced $253 million in grants for low-cost housing.
“He has strategically started to move to the parts of his base that have
had some questions on him,” Mr. Sharpton said.
As he has confronted the state’s deepening financial crisis, Mr.
Paterson has pushed for deep cuts to government programs that directly
affect black constituents. Last fall, he reluctantly vetoed a bill that
would have provided landlords with tax breaks in exchange for removing
lead paint — a bill he had once co-sponsored — declaring that it would
cost too much. And during the recent budget negotiations, he engaged in
a bitter battle with powerful health care unions, whose membership is
predominantly black and Hispanic, over further budget cuts.
“I hear a lot of complaints,” said Michelle Wooten, who owns a hair
salon along a shopping promenade in Albany that draws a mostly black
clientele. “They feel like he’s not working for them, for the people.”
Geoffrey Malcolm, the manager of the Front Page Urban Bookstore in
Albany, said that Mr. Paterson “went against his word on schools.”
“He cut a lot of programs,” Mr. Malcolm said. “Where does that money go?”
Many expressed sympathy for Mr. Paterson’s position, saying he was
bearing the brunt of public anger over lost jobs, the grim economy, and
budget cuts that were to some extent unavoidable. But others suggested
that the governor had alienated some black voters through his own
political and policy priorities.
“There is some letdown from people who were so proud of his ascension,”
said Charles Barron, a New York City Council member from Brooklyn.
“People have to realize that when we invest our aspirations in you, we
expect more. We expect better.”
Now Mr. Paterson is returning, in effect, to his roots. He won a major
victory — and plaudits from black civic leaders — for reaching an
agreement with the Legislature to overhaul stringent drug sentencing
laws enacted during the 1970s, which had been widely denounced as overly
punitive. This month a task force that Mr. Paterson created will report
major progress, according to administration officials, in increasing the
number of minority- and women-owned financial firms involved in
underwriting New York’s debt offerings.
On Saturday, Mr. Paterson traveled to Freeport, on Long Island, to
attend the swearing-in of the village’s first black mayor, Andrew
Hardwick. Speaking to an enthusiastic and largely black crowd, Mr.
Paterson basked in the day’s spirit and seemed eager to rekindle the
sense of possibility that accompanied his arrival in the governor’s
office last year.
“Growing up on Long Island, as I did, the idea of an African-American
mayor of the Village of Hempstead — where I grew up — and the Village of
Freeport, one of the places where I would like to come a lot, in this
period of time seemed impossible in that day,” Mr. Paterson said.
“For me,” he added, “the most exciting moment in this era in history is
that the sons and daughters of people who came to this country in chains
now have a chance to set it free.”
For Mr. Paterson, returning to his base holds obvious rewards but also
risks. Strong support among black voters — and a united front among
prominent black elected officials — would make it far harder for other
Democrats to run against the governor in next year’s primary. That is
particularly true for the most likely contender, Attorney General Andrew
M. Cuomo, who spent years repairing his reputation with the black
political establishment after his ill-fated 2002 run against H. Carl
McCall, the first black Democratic nominee for governor in New York.
But Mr. Paterson must also take note of his potential competitors in a
general election, like Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City
mayor. In the coming few months, the governor will be prodded by black
lawmakers to take sides on controversial issues like prison reform,
housing and mayoral control of the city’s public schools, and positions
that resonate with black voters may prove less popular among the broader
“It will be important for the governor to demonstrate that his presence
in office will benefit black and Latino communities on the issues that
are important to these voters,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a
Some allies disputed the idea that Mr. Paterson’s black support had
dissipated significantly. Others dismissed the drop as the result of
unfair — even biased — press coverage, or the tough television ads that
some unions broadcast to fight the governor’s budget cuts.
“I think the polls are not reflecting David’s standing in the
community,” said Hazel N. Dukes, president of the New York State
Conference of N.A.A.C.P. Branches.
That feeling is also shared by some of Mr. Paterson’s inner circle and
longtime friends. Earlier this year, his wife, Michelle Paige Paterson,
urged friends and allies of Mr. Paterson to write letters to New York
City newspapers to protest their coverage of her husband.
But Mr. Paterson himself appears to be proceeding on the assumption that
he has a problem that needs solving. He made two appearances recently on
KISS-FM’s “Open Line” (98.7), a popular radio talk show, to field
questions from listeners.
And one Sunday in March, Mr. Paterson made appearances at three of the
largest and most influential black churches in New York City — Greater
Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens, Abyssinian Baptist Church in
Harlem, and the Christian Cultural Center in Canarsie, Brooklyn.
“I think he wanted to touch base with the community,” said the Rev. A.
R. Bernard, the pastor of the Christian Cultural Center. “He wanted to
make his pitch as governor. He talked about what he’s doing, and what
he’d like to see happen.”
Angela Macropoulos contributed reporting.
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