MIAMI SHORES — Among a standing-room only crowd of South Florida’s movers and shakers, CNN political analyst Roland Martin provided an up-close-and-personal view of Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House.
Hosted by South Florida Times Publisher Robert Beatty and his wife, Priscilla, in their luxurious Miami Shores estate, Martin, in his typical laid-back, humorous style, told the crowd on Dec. 4 how he knew that Hillary Clinton would not be Obama’s pick for vice president before the news broke.
He also explained CNN’s rationale for not providing him a seat during one of its post-debate wrap-up shows, and why Obama should not be the only person sworn in on Jan. 20.
Introduced by Miami Herald World Editor John Yearwood, Martin spoke for about 45 minutes to the crowd of more than 150 people – many of whom could be on a list of who’s who among South Florida’s black journalists – including retired Channel 10 news anchor Dwight Lauderdale, NBC 6 anchor Julia Yarbough and South Florida Times columnist Al Calloway.
“We have always known that Roland was going places, even when he was a student at Texas A & M,” Yearwood said of the author, radio host and CNN correspondent.
Martin, who also works as a special correspondent for Essence magazine, previewed the publication’s Inauguration edition with dual covers – one featuring the president-elect and another featuring Obama’s wife, Michelle.
The event, a fundraiser for the National Association of Black Journalists, afforded guests a unique, behind-the-scenes peek at CNN’s eventual, if initially reluctant, decision to put Martin on the air.
“This was one hell of an election. It was interesting because – let’s just be honest – folks didn’t give the brother a chance at all that he was going to win. Black folks were like, ‘Man, please,’” Martin said of many people’s early opinion of Obama becoming president.
The snazzy-dressing Martin said his 2003 Chicago encounter with Obama, who was running for the U. S. Senate at the time, laid the foundation for his access to the president-elect’s inner circle, often allowing him to obtain campaign information that no other journalist could.
After the former senator’s surprising win at the Iowa primaries, as CNN officials scrambled to determine when Obama might arrive at the convention center to deliver his victory speech, Martin calmly informed them that the president-elect was having dinner with friends and family, and was planning to leave for the center in 15 minutes.
When Obama accepted the Democratic nomination on June 3, talk immediately focused on who would become his vice-presidential running mate.
According to Martin, famed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein, famous for his role at The Washington Post in exposing the Watergate break-in that prompted the resignation of President Nixon, confidently told Martin that, “If the poll numbers show [Obama] has to choose Hillary Clinton, he will choose Hillary Clinton.”
Martin, meanwhile, had already been told by Obama insiders that Clinton’s selection as the vice-presidential nominee was “highly unlikely,” the exact phrasing that graced the front page of The New York Times the following day.
Dumbfounded that Martin had early access to the announcement, Martin said Bernstein later told him, “I have talked to everybody in the Obama campaign, except Obama,” to which Martin replied, “Carl, you and I don’t talk to the same people.”
The unprecedented number of blacks tuning in to catch Martin on CNN led the station’s world president, Jim Walton, to contact Martin directly to ensure his presence during the show’s post-debate wrap-up following the final presidential debate.
“That was the night I was standing up. It was the craziest thing. There were 14 people on the set that night,” Martin said of the show that prompted a communication from director Spike Lee.
“Everybody else is sitting down. Wolf (Blitzer)’s standing, Anderson (Cooper)’s standing, Roland’s standing. I’m waiting for the first black person to email me.”
That person was Lee, who Martin said asked via email, “Can a brother not get a chair?”
Martin said the cable network told him that the reason he was not provided a chair was to ensure that black viewers knew he was present.
As the nation prepares for the highly anticipated swearing in of its 44th president, Martin said, everyday people should be preparing to be sworn in as well, by committing to take action in their own communities.
“At 12:01 p.m. on January 20…, the question is when he’s sworn in…how many of us are going to take our own swearing in? Forget what is Obama’s agenda for America. The question is, ‘What’s our agenda for where we live?” Martin asked.
Photo: Roland Martin