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Hustling the Hood

Even by its own muckraking standards, the October 11 issue of the black-oriented Broward Times was unsettling, particularly to Democrats. "Are We Just Stupid?" screamed a headline across the front page over a story about the Tampa lawyer who hopes to dethrone Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday: Bill McBride. The story, by Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Keith Clayborne, slammed the candidate.

Inside, atop the lead editorial by columnist Chris Hood, was the headline: "McBride... a six pack tractor pull kind of guy... don't even waste your vote." In the piece, Hood wrote: "Bill, as it turns out, knows nothing about black economic development, not a clue... zero... The fact that this dumpster of a politician was even in the race for governor is an insult to blacks."

Added another columnist, Elgin Jones: "The state and local democratic party appears to be scratching their head with one hand and pimp slapping blacks with the other. McBride's apparent lack of concern for issues impacting blacks is just the tip of the kicking boot."

Both in print and in person, Clayborne makes it clear that he supports Bush. "This is the first time I have ever endorsed a Republican in my life," comments Clayborne, who twice met with McBride before the September primary. "The bottom line is, McBride doesn't know anything. He doesn't have a message for anybody."

A significant part of the journalists' disenchantment with McBride, which is shared by some other South Florida blacks, relates to the candidate's choice of County Commission Chairwoman Lori Parrish for his campaign chairwoman in Broward County. For months, Parrish has led the charge to unseat county Elections Supervisor Miriam Oliphant, who is black and has support among local African-Americans.

That issue came to a head during an October 7 meeting with ministers at Mount Olive Baptist Church. Earlier this year, the Mount Olive minister, the Rev. Dr. Mack King Carter, had said blacks should consider voting for Jeb Bush. At the October gathering, Carter stayed seated when the congregation rose to applaud McBride. Though in the end Carter didn't support the Republican, neither was he warm to McBride. Congregants "should make up their own minds," he said.

After the meeting, McBride met with a group of ministers at Mount Olive. Donzell Varner, assistant pastor at another Broward Baptist Church, Mount Bethel, attended that gathering. He asked McBride to intervene with Parrish on Oliphant's behalf. According to a story in the Miami Herald the next day, McBride later said that he didn't intend to tell Parrish what to do but that he would "talk to Parrish, and to the extent I can help in some way, I will."

Clayborne calls that comment "an insult." Varner says it was adequate, provided that McBride follows up. Moreover, though he supports McBride, Varner calls the candidate "new to the black community."

"My concern would be that, if he were elected, that he would have an agenda more in line with the black community," Varner says. "McBride has a marvelous opportunity to take the lead on behalf of [blacks]. I don't know whether he'll do that."

As much as many black voters believe that Bush -- with his predictable agenda of cutting taxes for those who least need it and cutting or privatizing services for those who need them most -- should be sent packing, more than a few are also skeptical about the great white hope (McBride) being sold to them by their leaders. As important in some minds as whose butt is warming the gubernatorial throne is, where will the people's future be when the political smoke clears?

Some local black activists are cynical about this, even though they support McBride. "I think there are some [leaders] who are more interested in being invited to the governor's mansion twice a month than in making sure education and health-care issues are being dealt with in this community," observes Henry Crespo, president of the Miami-Dade Democratic Black Caucus. "What we hear is, 'We got to get Jeb out. He's no good for us.' That works with traditional Democrats who follow traditional leaders. Outside of that pocket, we have a problem. There is a core of people in this community who are disillusioned with the process, and they have to be reached."

Sherman Henry, who heads a union representing custodians, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers in the Miami-Dade school system, concurs. "The [candidates] get one or two people who are supposed to be the village chief, and we're supposed to follow them," he complains. "Despite the constant rhetoric, I haven't seen anything substantive. I don't see the politicians talking to the unemployed in Overtown. You're promised the pie in the sky, but the history is, you may get some crumbs."

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