Blacks at Urban League Conference snubed by most Presidential candidates


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. —Democratic presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton came out swinging Friday morning at the Presidential Candidates Forum at the National Urban League’s annual conference, held last week at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale. Determined to make the most out of her audience of 8,000 mostly African Americans, Clinton seized the moment to lambast Republican Jeb Bush and his “right to rise” message as they both courted the black vote in their bid for the White House in 2016.

All 21 major presidential candidates were invited to speak before the large, predominantly black constituency of the National Urban League, but only five accepted the invitation. Clinton, Bush, Dr. Ben Carson, Martin O’Malley and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders addressed the group during an early morning plenary session on Friday.  Miami’s Marco Rubio was among those who answered but indicated a scheduling conflict. Donald Trump was among a handful that did not respond at all and didn’t acknowledge the Urban League’s invitation.

But Bush and Clinton were there doing their best to tout the things they’ve done to help African Americans. Bush has adopted the “right to rise,” slogan for his campaign, signaling economic empowerment for all; but Clinton sarcastically poked jabs at it, insinuating that Bush’s words didn’t line up with his actions when it comes to the African-American community. She never called Bush by name during her speech, but it was clear Bush, and his “right to rise” slogan, were her target. She literally picked it apart.

“I don’t think you can credibly say that everyone has a right to rise and then say you’re phasing out Medicare or for repealing Obamacare. People can’t rise if they can’t afford health care!” Clinton said sternly. “They can’t rise if the minimum wage is too low to live on. They can’t rise if their governor makes it harder for them to get a college education. And you can’t seriously talk about the right to rise and then support laws that deny the right to vote!”

Clinton said she will not run from issues of race and racism. “I will never stop working on issues of race and inequality. Issues like these are why I’m running for President. I’m asking you to hold me accountable. I’m proud to be your ally and I will continue to fight alongside you. We can do this,” she said, after citing her many years of policies and programs to help low income families and the African American community.

When it was Bush’s turn to address the group, he did not retort against Clinton, but instead, he spoke of all he had done to help low income families. He also called long time Miami Urban League president, T. Willard Fair, who is black, his “dear friend.”  Bush spoke of opening the first charter school in Florida with 90% black students from Liberty City (Miami), and how that experience shaped his life. “That was one of the proudest moments of my life. That experience made me a better person. That shaped who I am today,” he said. He also reminded the constituents that he took down the Confederate flag from the steps of the Capitol as governor of Florida. Education reform, however, was the overriding theme of Bush’s speech.  He spoke of the importance of “choice” programs and said the country’s education disparity is “the worst inequality in America and the source of so many other inequalities.”

“I believe in the right to rise in this country. And a child is not rising if he’s not reading,” Bush said.

Bush said social programs such as welfare have not worked, so he is not for them. He also spoke of the need for fathers who are not in their child’s life to “step up.”

At the conclusion of his speech, Bush asked for the black vote. “I welcome your friendship and I ask for your vote,” he said, before shaking hands and taking pictures with audience members.

Dr. Ben Carson, the former famous brain surgeon, and the only major black candidate for the Presidency and a West Palm Beach resident, sought to resonate with the black audience by telling of his days growing up in dire poverty with a mother who was one of 24 children. He also told of the times when he was profiled while working as a neurosurgeon. Carson said nurses at the hospital would automatically assume he was an orderly instead of a surgeon.  Carson said he corrected them, but never made a big deal about them racially profiling him. The Republican candidate brought a message of self sufficiency, but said it is not true that he wants to do away with welfare and social programs. “I have no desire to get rid of safety nets for people who need them. I have a strong desire, however, to provide a ladder to get people out of dependency so that they become part of the fabric of America.” Carson did say, however, that racism still exists and it always will. He said that cannot be an excuse, however. “The person who has the most to do with what happens to you, is you. I stopped listening to people tell me that I was a victim,” he said.

All the other speakers spoke of race and racism as well, but the three Democratic candidates, Clinton, O’Malley and Sanders mentioned by name the recent high profile murder victims at the hands of police or while in police custody.  They spoke of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and Sam DuBose saying that police needed to be policed.  All three candidates spoke of Sandra Bland, the young black female who was arrested after a minor traffic stop in Texas on July 10 and was later found dead in jail. “All of us must ask how many individuals, like Sandra Bland, have been subject to abusive arrests when the cameras were not rolling?” questioned O’Malley, who is the former mayor of Baltimore and the former governor of Maryland, where riots and unrest broke out earlier this year. O’Malley spoke heavily about the need for better policing and prison reform. He also said he would work to get lesser sentences for people with minor offenses, where it’s clear that blacks are receiving harsher punishments.

U.S. Senator and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders also spoke of the “militarization” of the police, something Sanders said must go. “It looks like they’re invading the city,” he said of police forces that have been in the spotlight over the last two years. But Sanders mainly spoke of income inequality, which he touted as the greatest issue facing America. “If you are a white kid between ages 17-20 who graduates high school, you have a 33% unemployment rate. If you are a Hispanic kid you have a 36% unemployment rate. If you are an African-American kid, ages 17-20, a  high school graduate you have a 51% unemployment rate. That is unacceptable,” he told the audience. “Income and wealth inequality is the great moral issue of our time. It is the great economic issue of our time. It is the great social and political issue,” he said.

National Urban League president, Marc Morial presided over the forum, and said it was the first time during this election cycle that candidates from both sides had shared the same stage.