Political Miscellany @ 7/28/08

The New York Times is reporting a split in the Congressional Black Caucus over legislation that bans certain types of cigarettes.

Right now, tobacco is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This means the FDA has limited authority to control the content and sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products. A bill in Congress would provide that authority, but some compromises have been made on this. One such compromise is that although the bill bans flavored cigarettes, menthol cigarettes are exempted from the ban. As noted in the Times article

…the menthol exemption was seen as a necessary compromise to win broad backing for the legislation… the legislation in its current form, with the menthol exemption, has broad support in the House. It also has the backing of many health groups, as well as the nation’s biggest cigarette company, Philip Morris USA, whose support is considered crucial for passage. The company makes Marlboro Menthol, the second-biggest menthol brand.

But menthol has become a politically charged subject in Washington because an estimated 75 percent of black smokers choose mentholated brands. Scientists have long wondered whether menthol might play a role in the disproportionate share of smoking-related cancer among African-Americans…

Caucus Chair Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick says… (CBC) members… are deeply divided on the subject. “The caucus is split,” she said. “We do want to see menthol regulated, but we’re convinced that eliminating or prohibiting menthol would be a killer for the bill.”

Philip Morris over the years has been one of the biggest contributors to the caucus’s nonprofit Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. That financial support, in some years exceeding $250,000, and lesser amounts at times from other cigarette makers, has been the reason some critics perceived an alliance between big tobacco and African-American members of Congress, some of whom were willing to help fend off antitobacco efforts.

Meanwhile, The Hill has a story about CBC members in potentially tough primary races who are hoping to get Barack Obama’s endorsement. Congressman Ed Towns of Brooklyn, NY is in trouble for supporting Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and it appears voters are becoming discontented with him. Congresswoman Carolyn Kilpatrick has been tainted by a scandal involving her son, Kwame Kilpatrick, who is the mayor of Detroit. William Jefferson, the congressman from New Orleans, has been indicted on federal corruption charges.

Cynthia Mckinney, Green Party Candidate

Barack Obama won’t be the only African American running for president this year. Cynthia McKinney, the former congresswoman from Georgia, is running for POTUS as the Green Party candidate. Her running mate is self-described Hip Hop Activist Rosa Clemente of the Bronx. Their campaign site, which has footage of McKinney and Clemente’s nomination acceptance speeches, is here.

Don Cravins Jr., who’s running for Congress in southwest Louisiana, has been added to the DCCC’s (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) Emerging Races list.

Don Cravins

Cravins, an African American Louisiana state senator, is running against Republican incumbent Charles Boustany in Louisiana’s 7th Congressional District. After giving consideration to running as a independent because he feared the Democratic Party wouldn’t support him, Cravins declared for Boustany’s seat as a Democrat. By making the Emerging Races list, Cravins has a chance to qualify for the DCCC’s Red to Blue program, which offers financial, communications, and strategic support for candidates who have met fundraising goals and otherwise shown themselves to be strong candidates.

Through June 2008, Cravins had raised $107,000, and had $104,000 on hand, according to OpenSecrets.Org. Boustany had raised $1 million, and had $670,000 on hand. The 7th District is 25% African American. Some thoughts on Cravins’ chances are here and here.

Vigilanteism may work great for Batman, but if you’re the mayor of a major city, you might want to think twice about that. Unfortunately, Jackson, Mississippi mayor Mayor Frank Melton may be getting that message too late. Melton was indicted two weeks ago for violating the civil rights of a supposed drug dealer by literally busting up his home. As noted in Wikipedia,

In September 2006, Mayor Melton, with his detective bodyguards and a group of youths called the “lawn crew” because they often traveled around with Melton, ostensibly to help with house demolitions and neighborhood clean-up, raided half a duplex on Ridgeway Street without a warrant. Witnesses say that Melton busted up much of the rental duplex with a large stick, such as famed Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser used. He cut his hand during the incident and had to go to the hospital for stitches. They say he then returned with the young men… with sledgehammers to finish destroying that side of the duplex.

Police arrested the tenant—schizophrenic Evans Welch—on drug possession, but he was discharged within days for lack of evidence. No warrant was issued for the raid, nor was the owner of the duplex—Jennifer Sutton—notified of any intention to conduct the raid or damage her property. After news of the demolition broke on Sept. 1, both the attorney general and the district attorney investigated the incident.

In April of 2007, Melton and his bodyguards were acquitted on state felony charges arising from the incident. The federal indictment charges them with conspiracy to deprive the duplex owner and her tenant of their right to be free from unlawful search and seizure, as well as charges of official misconduct and the use of firearms in the commission of a violent crime. It’s worth noting that in late July 2006, the head of ACLU racial profiling division arrived in Jackson to address reports of racial profiling related to similar raids by Melton.

Melton’s entry in Wikipedia relates a number of other controversies he’s been involved in. Despite these incidents, Melton still has many supporters in Jackson, and he plans to run for re-election in 2009.

During a talk about the difficulties white voters might have in accepting a black persons for president, a friend told me this: “Whites can accept the idea, because after all, they’re able to accept you and me.” That was a deep thought: although we seldom think of it, successful blacks might, after all, leave a positive image with whites that we (or some of us) might cynically ignore.

Ohio’s Political Players: Black Mayors Coleman (Columbus), Jackson (Cleveland),
Mallory (Cincinnati), McLin (Dayton), Williams (Youngstown)

That might be a useful dynamic for Barack Obama in Ohio. Ohio is a swing state, and Obama almost has to win there if he hopes to capture the presidency. And in Ohio, all three of its largest cities, and several others, have black mayors. Their success may well pave the road for an Obama victory in the state. Here’s a list of the black mayors of Ohio:

Michael Coleman, mayor of Columbus: Columbus is Ohio’s most populous city (711,000 residents, 24.4% black in 2000). Coleman has been popular there; he won his first the Columbus mayorship in 1999, and was re-elected unopposed in November 2003.

Frank G. Jackson, mayor of Cleveland: Jackson, who is biracial, heads Ohio’s second largest city (478,403 residents, 51% Black in 2000). Jackson was a supporter of Obama in the Ohio primary; Stephanie Tubbs, the US Congresswoman for Cleveland, was a major backer of Sen Hillary Clinton.

Mark Mallory, mayor of Cincinnati: Cincinnati is Ohio’s 3rd largest city (317,361 residents, 43% black in 2000). Mallory, who has also served in the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate, is a member of the Mallory family, which is the first family of black politics in southwest Ohio. He is the son of former Ohio House of Representatives Majority Leader William L. Mallory, Sr., brother of Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge William L. Mallory, Jr., brother of Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Dwane Mallory, brother of Ohio State Representative Dale Mallory and brother of former Vice-Mayor of Forest Park Joe Mallory.

• Rhine McLin, mayor of Dayton: Dayton is the 6th largest Ohio city (166,179 people, 43.10% black). Dayton has what is called a “weak mayor” system, in which the mayor is the chairperson of the city commission and has one vote on the city commission along with the other commissioners. The city commission hires a separate city manager, who holds administrative authority over the city government. The current city manager, Rashad Young, is African American. McLin is the Vice-Chair of the Executive Committee of the Ohio Democratic Party.

Roy (‘Jay’) Williams, mayor of Youngstown: Youngstown is the eighth largest city in Ohio (82,026 residents, 44% black). His election in 2005 gained local and regional media attention because he was the city’s first African-American mayor, and also the independent mayor since 1922. Williams was a true “change candidate”: he was elected at age 34, had no previous political experience, and ran as neither Democrat or Republican. Williams is using his background in banking and community development to help the city deal with its shrinking population and industrial base.

Donald Culliver, mayor of Mansfield: Mansfield is a small/medium sized city in north central Ohio (49,346 residents, 20% black in 2000). Culliver, who’s been on the Mansfield city council since 1987, won a three person race to become mayor in 2007.

Facing South reports that attempts to pass the North Carolina Racial Justice Act in the NC Senate have failed, as they did in 2007. The NC House passed the bill this year and last year. As noted by Facing South,

If passed in North Carolina – a state with a death row population that is 60 percent black despite the black population in the state being only 20 percent – the bill would have been a landmark in North Carolina’s continuing debate over the death penalty. It would allow defendants in death-penalty cases to use statistics to try to show that race played a factor in the application of the death penalty. (If a defendant succeeded in establishing his claim that race was a basis for his death sentence, the bill allowed the court could impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.-Ed.)

“We’ve had three black men released from death row,” the Rev. William Barber, the president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, told the Winston-Salem Journal. “I believe that if we had had three wealthy men, three white men, exonerated like this, everybody would be declaring that our justice system is broken. And we’ve got to stop this in North Carolina.”

Passing that legislation would have been a great accomplishment, especially in the South. The bill’s supporters plan to reintroduce it in the NC House and Senate next year.

One of the leaders supporting the Racial Justice Act is Rev Dr William Barber II, who I believe publishes the excellent Skeptical Brotha web site.

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