Wednesday, August 03, 2005


The Meeks Shall Inherit The Earth?

My latest Post column looks at the tensions economic issues are creating between the Democratic Party and its black base. Cases-in-point: the CAFTA vote and the New York city stadium deals.


LAST week's free-trade vote had hidden meaning for the future of the Democratic Party.
The House passed the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) by 217 to 215. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) was one of only 15 Democrats — and one of only three members of the Congressional Black Caucus — to support the measure, which President Bush signed into law yesterday.

Meeks says his decision, coming after weeks of "soul-searching and fact-finding," wasn't easy.
What did it? Well, 20 percent to 25 percent of Meek's constituents are Caribbean-born. And the congressman has met with the presidents of Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The latter two nations, he points out, were embroiled in civil war during the 1980s. "We have democracy there now. We have to help these fledgling countries. This legislation will stabilize them."

But the overriding concern for him was what it means at home: "The economic impact for my constituents is all positive.

"In the Sixth District, the economic engine is JFK airport; it creates jobs. Expanded free trade means that Fed Ex is shipping more; UPS is shipping more. That means more jobs for New Yorkers. In a city where 50 percent of black males are unemployed, we need to find more jobs.
"Expanded free trade also strengthens the financial services center, which is the heart of the city economy.
"Finally, our upstate small farmers can now export more of their goods. This is a net gain economically [across the board]."

But this wasn't a vote without risk.

Liberal activists call Meeks and the other 14 Democrats "sellouts." The Capitol Hill paper Roll Call reports that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, "furious" over losing, is reviewing "defectors' votes" with an eye to taking away committee assignments.

Is Meeks — a member of the House Financial Services Committee — afraid? "I hope my colleagues will understand that this was a vote of conscience. My heart was with [my fellow Democrats], but my head said to vote 'yes.' I finally chose to vote for jobs, for my constituents and my country."

In talking about the need to create jobs, Meeks sounds similar to the Rev. Al Sharpton, who broke with many city Democrats to support the Manhattan West Side Stadium and the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards complex — both projects championed by Republican Michael Bloomberg.

Meeks did, too. He says, "I supported both — for the same reasons I supported CAFTA. The second phase of the civil-rights movement is economics. The reason we had the initial fight was to have the opportunity to get the same as everyone else."

A similar dynamic has led two black women to boost Mayor Bloomberg's re-election chances.
Lillian Roberts — head of District Council 37, the city's largest union — split from the Democrats to endorse the mayor's re-election. And weeks ago, Bertha Lewis — a major figure in the Working Families Party and head of the leftist activist group ACORN — gave Bloomberg a literal kiss of approval on the Atlantic Yards plan.

Yes, these deals — like a lot of city politics — may be built on multiple motives, base calculation and raw self interest. Many black Democrats, for example, quietly admit that a 2005 Bloomberg win would boost the 2009 mayoral chances of city Comptroller William Thompson.

But principle counts, too. The CAFTA vote — which Brooklyn's Edolphus Towns also supported — makes it clear that a broad economic, job-creating political message resonates with African-Americans.

Meeks says combining education with economics "is how the black community will be empowered."

On the same day last month, President Bush addressed the Indiana Black Expo and spoke about an economic "ownership society," while RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman admitted to the NAACP convention in Milwaukee that the GOP had long erred in ignoring the black vote.

Last week, Sharpton declared before the National Urban League, "As long as we allow people to get elected off of us and deliver nothing to us, then part of our problem is that we have such low political self-esteem. Every time we give them support for no support, we add to the marginalization of black men."

It was quite clear who the "them" was.

Nancy Pelosi can cry about losing trade votes if she wants, but Democrats should understand that simple anti-Republican rhetoric isn't enough to address black political concerns.

Bookmark and Share

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Technorati search
Search Now:
Amazon Logo
  •  RSS
  • Add to My AOL
  • Powered by FeedBurner
  • Add to Google Reader or Homepage
  • Subscribe in Bloglines
  • Share on Facebook