Whitman Snubs African Americans and Black Media

by Harrison Chastang on July 28, 2010

Hope you were able to TiVo that campaign ad Meg Whitman ran during the primary with her endorsement from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Because if Whitman continues her strategy of avoiding African Americans, that may be probably the only time you’ll see the former EBay CEO around many other African Americans between now and November election.

African Americans are unhappy with Whitman’s decision to skip this Saturday’s candidate’s forum at the San Francisco Christian Center on black and Latino issues sponsored by the California Foundation. The event, billed as the California Gubernatorial Faith Forum, will not be a debate – but an event where each candidate for Governor and Lieutenant Governor will separately answer questions from an audience of mostly African American and Hispanic church members.

Event organizers said the forum would be an excellent opportunity for the candidates to introduce themselves to African American and Hispanic voters, and to answer questions about race, crime, drugs, discrimination, gentrification, police brutality and other issues important to African Americans and Hispanics not normally asked by the mainstream media or the handpicked (and usually White) audience members at scripted campaign events.

Saturday’s forum will be significant because none of the three debates between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman announced yesterday will be held in major urban communites. Two of the three debates will be held in the Central Valley cities of Sacramento and Fresno, with the other debate held at Dominician College in Marin County, the richest county in the state where less than two percent of the population is African American. No debates are scheduled for Southern California or any of the state’s largest cities and representatives of Black owned media outlets day it’s unlikely that any reporters from their papers or stations will be on the media panels asking questions of Brown and Whitman during the three debates.

KTVU last week reported that California Foundation forum producers sent invitations to both Whitman and Democratic Party candidate Jerry Brown in May, two months before Saturday’s forum. Brown immediately accepted, but organizers said the Whitman campaign had not scheduled any events for July and would contact the forum’s organizers as soon as Whitman’s July schedule was finalized. The KTVU story said that the Whitman campaign only informed the forum’s producers last week about Whitman’s “scheduling conflict.” The forum will also feature Republican Lt. Governor candidate Abel Maldonado. Forum producer Loren Simon said the Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Gavin Newsom had not yet responded to the group’s invitation.

The Whitman campaign has been criticized for spending millions of dollars on campaign ads while avoiding interviews and press conferences, and staging tightly orchestrated events that provide reporters and the general public with little, if any opportunity to ask Whitman serious and hard hitting questions.

If you watch TV, cable or listen to radio you can’t go more than a half hour without hearing or seeing a Meg Whitman commercial. Whitman’s ads were running non stop months before the June primary and Whitman barely waited a week after her June 8th primary win over state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner before continuing the torrent of campaign commercials. Whitman’s has reportedly spent a record $50 million dollars on TV, radio and print ads with the promise of spending just as much, or more between now and the November election. African American owned media outlet throughout the state say that the Whitman campaign has not spent a dime on radio or print ads with the Black owned media.

African Americans newspaper publishers and radio station managers say Whitman’s decision to skip Saturday’s forum reflects a pattern of Republican candidates ignoring or bypassing African Americans and refusing to do interviews with, or to buy political advertising with African American owned newspapers and radio stations.

Joe Stinson, sales director for the Black owned Sacramento Observer, said that the Whitman campaign has not only refused to buy any ads in their paper, but that the Whitman campaign did not respond to repeated invitations to appear before the Observer’s editorial board. Stinson said the Whitman campaign was also personally contacted by the West Coast Black Newspaper Publishers Association, an organization that represents Black owned newspapers throughout California. Officials with other Black owned newspapers and radio stations around California say they have not received a dime in advertising revenue from the Whitman campaign.

African American publishers and station managers are particularly upset that while the Whitman campaign has hired a Latino Media Outreach team to target Hispanic Americans with millions of dollars of Spanish language radio and tv ads, Whitman does not have a similar team committed to targeting African Americans with ads in Black newspapers and radio stations. The Whitman campaign did not return an email request for a response to this story.

In the last month the Tea Party controversy and the Oscar Grant shooting, and reaction to that verdict has debunked the notion of a post racial society where racism no longer exists because the President of the United States is a Black man. Republicans and Tea Party members say they aren’t racist but does the Whitman campaign strategy of ignoring African Americans send a message that she feels that African Americans who aren’t rich and Republican like Condoleezza Rice are no longer relevant politically?

A Republican candidate with a different view toward African American voters is GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina. The former HP CEO (who is considered more conservative than Whitman) appeared unannounced at a South Central Los Angeles Juneteenth event, a bold decision in that African American audiences like the LA Juneteenth crowds can be hostile to conservative Republican candidates who rarely venture into South Central, East Oakland, Richmond, Bayview or other mostly Black communities.

While Fiorina faced some tough questions, heard catcalls and disparaging comments from some in the crowd, most of the audience let Fiornia know while they didn’t agree with her politics and her party’s policies toward African Americans, they gave her credit for showing up at a venue ignored by Republicans and many Democrats. Fiorina came away from South Central with video and photos of her wearing an African designed Kente scarf, and giving a speech in front of large group of African Americans.

Fiorina probably didn’t persuade many African Americans in the crowd to switch their vote. But she gave the impression that if she defeats Barbara Boxer, her door will be open to African Americans — even if they did not vote for her in large numbers. Is Whitman’s refusal to appear at African American events, campaign in mostly Black communities or spend millions of her campaign dollars with African American media an indicator of how African Americans, and issues important to the African American community, will be treated by Whitman if she’s elected Governor?

The 2010 Gubernatorial Faith Forum: “A Conversation with the Candidates” is at 11:30 am on Saturday, July 31, 2010 at the San Francisco Christian Center; 5845 Mission Street in San Francisco. The moderator is Dr. Claybon Lea, Jr., and admission is free.

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