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Some Blacks And Hispanics Criticize Kerry On Outreach


April 30, 2004
Copyright ©2004 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

PHILADELPHIA, April 29 – For weeks, Senator John Kerry savored a Democratic Party that was unified in rallying behind his presidential candidacy. But in recent days, influential black and Hispanic political leaders whom the campaign had counted on for support have been openly complaining that Mr. Kerry's organization lacks diversity and is failing to appeal directly to minority voters.

Even as Mr. Kerry spoke here on Thursday to the National Conference of Black Mayors – an appearance his community outreach team viewed as critical to building a network of minority support – two influential Latino leaders circulated harsh letters expressing concern about the campaign's dealings with minorities.

And in interviews over the last week, more than a dozen minority elected officials and political strategists voiced concerns about what they said was the dearth of representation in Mr. Kerry's inner circle and worried that he was taking black and Hispanic votes for granted.

"The reality is that we're entering May and the Kerry campaign has no message out there to the Hispanic community nor has there been any inkling of any reach-out effort in any state to the Hispanic electorate, at least with any perceivable sustainable strategy in mind," Alvaro Cifuentes, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Caucus, said in an e-mail message to party leaders provided by a recipient who insisted on anonymity. "It is no secret that the word of mouth in the Beltway and beyond is not that he does not get it, it is that he does not care."

Separately, in a letter addressed to Mr. Kerry, Raul Yzaguirre, the president of the National Council of La Raza, denounced the "remarkable and unacceptable absence of Latinos in your campaign."

"Relegating all of your minority staff to the important but limited role of outreach only reinforces perceptions that your campaign views Hispanics as a voting constituency to be mobilized, but not as experts to be consulted in shaping policy," wrote Mr. Yzaguirre, whose group is among the oldest, largest and most influential representing Hispanics.

While Mr. Kerry, whose home state, Massachusetts, is 7 percent Hispanic and 5 percent black, has active support from black members of Congress, some veteran African-American leaders have struggled to find a foothold in his campaign. Even some black officials who called a reporter to offer their perspective at the campaign's behest said Mr. Kerry had work to do.

"He is generally surrounded by white folks, and sure that concerns me, sure," said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina.

Andi Pringle, who worked for the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns and was a deputy campaign manager for Howard Dean, said that in addition to staffing, she wondered where minorities fit into Mr. Kerry's schedule, message and field efforts.

"All I've seen is on occasion there are a couple of Sundays where he's gone to church," said Ms. Pringle, who has a direct-mail firm.

Mr. Kerry's campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, and his three highest-ranking minority aides, said in a telephone interview that they would soon roll out an outreach plan, tapping local minority officials and their political networks. They disputed that Mr. Kerry's inner circle was dominated by white men, saying that Marcus Jadotte, a deputy campaign manager who is black, and Paul Rivera, a senior adviser who is Hispanic, are among the 15 top campaign officials on a daily 7:30 a.m. conference call and the eight department heads at a daily 8:30 a.m. meeting.

"This entire line of thinking is both insulting to this campaign and to the communities that are supporting John Kerry," Mr. Jadotte said. Regarding the criticisms of Mr. Cifuentes and Mr. Yzaguirre, he added, "We take all of the input of our friends very seriously, and we intend to act on that input."

Of the nine aides who travel regularly with Mr. Kerry, all but Setti Warren – the African-American trip director who is always by his side and tries to keep him on schedule – are white. Of an estimated $9 million the campaign spent on advertising in the primaries, $350,000 went to black and Hispanic media outlets.

Art Collins, who joined the campaign two weeks ago as a senior adviser focused on African-American strategy, said he had met with Mr. Kerry on his campaign plane. Mr. Rivera pointed out that Mr. Kerry had campaigned in Harlem four times and won by large margins among blacks in the Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri primaries.

Much of the hubbub began with Ms. Cahill's listing, in a newspaper article this month, five white men as Mr. Kerry's closest advisers, and an announcement of new staff members in which only a handful of the 30 names belonged to blacks and Hispanics. A follow-up naming the outreach team, filled with a rainbow of races, only seemed to make it worse.

"If there would have been a senior person at that table they would have said, `Don't even put out that press release until you can put some Hispanics on it,' " Armando Gutierrez, a New Mexico media consultant, said of the first release. Of the second, he said, "It's so pigeon-holed, it just sounds patronizing and condescending."

On the stump, Mr. Kerry's jobs-health care-education message avoids citing minorities specifically except for a line about having fought alongside men of all races, regions and religions in Vietnam and seen "whites only" signs on drinking fountains in the South in 1963.

He has a separate speech focused on discrimination and urban problems of violence, poverty and homelessness for black churches; some similar lines were stitched into his remarks before the black mayors.

"The leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King had an impact on my life," Mr. Kerry said here, in a speech in large measure about domestic security in which he accused President Bush of leaving chemical plants vulnerable to attacks to accommodate the chemical industry.

He also also mentioned the desegregation of public schools and of stopping predatory lending.

Since securing the nomination, Mr. Kerry has named a black woman, Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, as co-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee; Representative Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee, who is black, and Henry Cisneros and Antonio Villaraigosa, both Hispanic, are among the campaign's national co-chairman.

Julian Bond, the chairman of the N.A.A.C.P., noted that Mr. Kerry alone among the Democratic primary contenders came a day early to his group's convention in Miami to mingle among members, but expressed concern that "I don't think you can be a serious contender for the votes of people of color if you don't have people of color making the decisions in your campaign."

The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of Mr. Kerry's two black primary opponents, said he had been welcomed with two one-on-one meetings and the candidate's personal cellphone number. He and some others attributed the complaints to old rivalries stemming as far back as Mr. Jackson's 1988 campaign against former Gov. Michael Dukakis, whose Massachusetts-based inner circle overlaps somewhat with Mr. Kerry's.

"I don't know whether the criticism is based on people wanting to see the inner circle diversified or whether it's a job application through the media," Mr. Sharpton said.

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