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MICHIGAN DEMOCRATIC CAUCUSES: Problems anger blacks; Sharpton sends message

February 9, 2004


The Rev. Al Sharpton's strong showing in Detroit in the Michigan Democratic caucuses sent a warning to U.S. Sen. John Kerry's front-running campaign: Don't take vote-rich Democratic Detroit for granted if he becomes the party's nominee.

On Sunday, in the aftermath of Kerry's commanding Michigan win, some black leaders denounced the state Democratic Party for caucus site screwups Saturday that confused and kept away voters, and called on party cochairman Mark Brewer to resign.

But Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said reports of problems were "overblown and crap."

Kilpatrick also stressed that Sharpton's support in Detroit underscored why the Democratic candidates, all of whom except Sharpton skipped a Detroit voter forum Thursday, need to describe proposals for cities, minorities and poor people.

The Rev. Horace Sheffield III, president of the National Action Network Michigan chapter and a Sharpton supporter, led a coalition Sunday demanding Brewer's resignation. Sheffield said the group may go to court to overturn Saturday's results if Brewer doesn't quit.

Brewer said Sunday he wouldn't resign, and there is a party appeal process to address the complaints.

Brewer said the decision to close or move some caucus sites was made by the 14th Congressional District party organization.

"All those 590 caucus sites are located, staffed and run by local" Democrats, not the state party, said Brewer. "We've had situations like this in the past, and we've never extended voting hours before. We went above and beyond what we've ever done."

Sheffield said Brewer demonstrated an "arrogance and attitude that has facilitated this debacle."

The problems in Detroit stemmed from some caucus sites being closed at the last minute, and voters being unsure of where to vote, because most sites were different from their regular polling places.

State party leaders extended voting hours by two hours in Detroit, to 6 p.m., but many sites closed at 4, unaware of the decision to keep them open longer.

The voting volume of Michigan's largest city, predominantly black and heavily unionized, gives Democrats an Election Day weapon, but the power of the weapon depends on turnout. Detroiters' voting rate is less than the state average.

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won Michigan by about 208,000 votes over Republican rival George W. Bush. Detroit contributed more than 273,000 Gore votes.

Party criticized
Sheffield's coalition includes a Michigan leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the head of the state Democratic Party's black caucus, state Rep. Artina Tinsley Hardman, D-Detroit, and City Councilwoman Kay Everett.

Sheffield chastised the state party for not doing mailings to inform voters about the new caucus locations.

The state party set up two computer sites and a toll-free line to let voters know where they should go. "I don't think it's time for finger-pointing. It's time to figure out what went wrong and fix it," said Melvin Butch Hollowell, cochairman of the state party. The coalition said Hollowell isn't to blame for the caucus confusion.

"But there is no such thing as a small injustice. Anyone turned away from the polls is just not right," Hollowell said.

The issue of disenfranchised voters is a sensitive one, especially with the history of hurdles for black people.

The coalition leaders also were angry with Gov. Jennifer Granholm, saying she minimized the caucus confusion.

"There were some problems at a small number of sites, but the fact remains that the step was taken to keep the caucus sites open an additional two hours," Chris DeWitt, her political spokesman, said Sunday.

Florence Owens, 72, was among those who faced voting challenges. She said Sunday that the state Democratic Party told her she should go to the Greater Grace Temple in northwest Detroit.

But when she got there Saturday morning, caucus staffers said she was at the wrong place and directed her to another church a few miles away. When she got there, she said, a sign on the closed building said caucus-goers should go to Greater Grace.

"I was just disgusted," said Owens, a retired juvenile court probation supervisor. "I just didn't vote."

Nearly 163,000 people voted in the caucuses, giving Kerry a convincing win with 52 percent of the total. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean came in second with 17 percent, and U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina had 13 percent.

Sharpton finished fourth, but had a strong showing in both the 13th and 14th congressional districts, which are mostly in Detroit. He finished second behind Kerry in those districts.

The events of the last four days don't bode well for the Democratic Party, said Sam Riddle, a political consultant with offices in Southfield and Flint.

"The black vote may not be there in the numbers the Democrats need to win Michigan in November," he said. "You can't deal with the top tier of blacks in Michigan and think that the grassroots are going to follow."

The Kerry campaign may understand that. The first stop the Massachusetts senator made on his trip to Michigan on Friday was a prayer breakfast with about 200 black Detroit ministers.

There also have been informal discussions in the Kerry campaign about the possibility of enlisting former President Bill Clinton, who has high black support, to help in big cities during the coming months.

The Saturday caucuses also underscored problems in Michigan's Democratic Party, which has operated with two chairmen -- Brewer and Hollowell -- since Granholm was elected.

Granholm wanted Hollowell, and Brewer has the support of unions. A compromise was forged with the two sharing the title.

6,360 Posts
You never disappoint, Bill

I'm not kidding, I'm almost speechless. Your lack of perception and the narrowness of your focus are stupefying.

1,630 Posts
you're a complete idiot

Al Sharpton as the benchmark for the left?

ok - does that mean we can assume Jerry Falwell speaks for you personally?

how many hours a day do you spend scanning the papers looking for this stuff while carefully avoiding the avalanche of Bush scew-ups which you have not once acknowledged?

what's also funny is that you never respond to my posts - I guess I can only conclude that you are intimidated and not able to defend yourself or your vacant position

how's your latent friend No Sprint?
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