It’s Friday — but don’t turn off your brains just yet, friends.
The National Urban League is holding its annual conference at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale this week, and its culminating event is happening this morning as five presidential hopefuls, including rivals Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, convene to discuss their views on issues facing our urban communities.
After plowing through yet another week of disheartening and downright disturbing news highlighting increasing racial tension throughout the country — including the release of body-camera footage showing the fatal shooting of unarmed black man Samuel DuBose by a University of Cincinnati police officer — the conference couldn’t come at a better time. New Times is live at the Convention Center to keep you updated during the action.
Each of the five candidates, which also includes Democrats like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Republican Dr. Ben Carson, is expected to speak for ten to 20 minutes on topics ranging from education and voting rights to police brutality.
Refresh this page to catch all the highlights, best quotes, and first impressions.
8:05 - Back at the media tables, conference techs are scrambling to provide extra power strips for the gaggle of press hunkered down with their laptops for the main event, which was scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. No word yet on which candidate will kick off the discussion, but overall the atmosphere is relaxed as Ray Charles' "America the Beautiful" plays out on the loud speaker and the last of the seats are filled.
8:10 - National Urban League President Marc Morial, who served as mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002, has taken the podium to introduce the plenary. He lets us know that all of the presidential candidates have been invited to attend the non-partisan event. Among those who declined to attend due to "scheduling conflicts" were Rand Paul and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Morial also takes a moment to call out a few of those who were invited but failed to provide any response ("We believe in transparency" he says to audience snickers): former New York Gov. George Pataki, Rick Santorum, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Donald Trump, among others.
8:27 - Retired neurosurgeon and Palm Beach resident Dr. Ben Carson is up first. He's soft-spoken and starts off with a candid childhood anecdote recounting his journey from Detroit to the Boston ghetto after his parents' divorce (things went south after his mother found out his father was a "bigamist.")
8:41 - Carson has spent much of his time talking about corporate money overseas, the virtues of capitalism, and trying to reconcile his political party with his urban upbringing.
"We don't have to be at the mercy of anyone else," he says. "Is there injustice out there? Of course there is, but if you conduct yourself in certain ways, you're going to find yourself in trouble." The guy's big on Booker T. Washington, and touts self-reliance and personal integrity as driving forces for positive change.
Besides working together and having faith in god, Carson didn't really delve into any specifics on solutions or strategies for battling some of the main issues facing urban communities.
8:45 - Take five.
8:52 - Clinton has just taken the stage and the crowd seems pumped. Sporting an emerald pantsuit, she thanks Morial and touches quickly on the approaching 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina before delving right into the topic of youth issues, education and health care primarily.
Clinton has three main points she wants to address:
1. "The opportunity gap that America is facing is not just about economic inequality; it's about racial inequality."
Here are some stats she's listed off:
- African-Americans are more than three times as likely as whites to be denied a mortgage.
- Schools are more segregated today than they were in 1968.
- African-Americans are sentenced to longer prison terms than white people for the same crimes.
- African-American children are 500 percent more likely to die from asthma than white kids.
"Race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind," she says. "It might be obvious to you guys, but I'm planning to be president, and anyone who seeks that office has a responsibility to say it and to grapple with the systemic inequalities."
2. "This is about America doing some soul searching and asking ourselves, 'What more can I do in my life to counter hate and injustice?'"
Here, Clinton talks about humility, introspection, and empathy as vital to addressing systemic racial inequities that still exist.
3. "Too many times, Americans have come together in shock and horror to process a violent, senseless tragedy... It's up to us to build on that momentum."
Clinton takes the time during this point to read out names of the several African-Americans who have died over the course of the past couple years due to police brutality and injustices.
With rising energy: "I am very pleased that many presidential candidates are here to address you, but the real test of a candidate's commitment is not whether we come to speak at your national conference... It's whether our positions live up to our rhetoric." Much audience applause. "I don't think you can say, 'Everyone has the right to rise' and then say you're phasing out Medicare or Obamacare... You cannot seriously talk about the 'right to rise' and support laws that deny the right to vote."
Cue heartwarming anecdote about how she and Bill baby-sit their new granddaughter, Charlotte, together — babies are our reminders of our responsibility to the next generation, guys!
Marc is back onstage now to get Clinton's take on a couple of specific points:
"This new generation is in a very important way combining personal success with continuing activism and even agitation, and I think we need that... It's not enough that some of us are successful. What's that great old saying? 'What are you to do? Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.'" Even though I sometimes may be on the receiving end, I want to be held accountable, and I want to be accountable to young people and the future they create.
On the wealth gap and the role of small business, minority and women-owned businesses:
"I want to be the small business president."
A stat: 60% of the net jobs created in America are created by small business. "Tax burdens, licensing burdens, and credit barriers are limiting growth."
She also touches on creating policies that encourage more women to enter the workforce, while taking into account their challenges and needs as women, as well as the student debt crisis. When she leaves the stage, Clinton receives a standing ovation.
9:27 - Tough act to follow, former Maryland Gov. O'Malley's up next. With a slight drawl, O'Malley indicates flatly "I am a Democrat" before delving into his achievements, mainly in criminal justice reforms and education.
During his tenures, O'Malley successfully repealed the death penalty, reduced violent crime to a 35-year low in Maryland, decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and gave back voting rights to 52,000 citizens with old felony records.
Overall, O'Malley seems like a decently cool dude and was pretty well-received, but his several anecdotes were lackluster and he didn't quite turn on the charm. His exit was received with a politely tepid crowd response.
9:52 - With two candidates left, Bush and Sanders, the conference has lagged behind a bit.
9:57 - Sen. Bernie Sanders has the spotlight. He's been drawing big crowds around the country for his independent, populist views and radical calls to action. He's like your cool hippie grandpa with a Twitter, and he's already spitting out gems:
"This may make some people nervous, and that's the way it is, but I think when we have a nation today where a handful of billionaires have unbelievable influence over the political and economic life of this nation, there is nothing significant we can accomplish unless we have the courage to take them on."
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He goes over his usual frightening stats — that we have higher income inequality than any other major country, that it's worse today than in 1928, that the top 10% owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%, that one family, the family that owns Walmart, owns more wealth than the bottom 40% of people.
"We need to have the best educated work force in the world."
"Kids in 4th and 6th grade will know that if they study hard, pay attention, do their school work, even if their parents like my parents didn't go to college... they will be able to go to college, because the income of their families will not be a determining factor," he says.
Sanders wants to make every public college and univeristy in America tuition-free. He also wants to instate universal Pre-K childcare.
- Unemployment is not 5.3%, it's 10.5% if you include those who stopped looking and those who work part-time but want full-time work.
- The unemployment rate for African American students aged 17-20 graduating high school is 51%. "That's turning our backs on an entire generation."
On criminal justice system:
- We have more people in jail than any other country, including China. "It is my very strong opinion that it makes a lot more sense for us to be investing in jobs and education than in jails and incarceration."
- $7.25 minimum wage that exists nationally is "in my opinion, a starvation wage."
- 1 in 4 black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during their lifetime; that's 6x the rate of white males. African Americans are 3x more likely to be searched during traffic stops compared to whites, and almost 4x as likely to experience use of force during police encounters.
- 13% of African American men have lost the right to vote due to felony convictions.
"We need to end prisons for profit. I do not want corporations making money and more money based on how many people we lock up," says Sanders, and also talks about the mental health care crisis before closing.
His lofty idealism and conviction are infectious and the crowd's certainly into it, but it also makes you just sad enough want to pat him on the shoulder and go for an ice cream.
10:29 - Gov. Jeb Bush has arrived, and he's very pleased that the Urban League has chosen Florida to host its conference this year, given all its diversity and hospitality.
A bunch of thank yous out of the way, Bush begins his loosely organized discussion talking about education, specifically the Liberty City Charter School he launched after his first failed race for governor in 1994. "That school opening was one of the happiest, proudest moments of my life," he says with some emotion. He doesn't mention that that school later closed.
Bush talks about his ability to make the easy choices quickly so that he can focus on the tougher ones, citing how he voted a decade ago for taking down the Confederate flag from the Florida state capital and putting it in a museum, "where it belongs." He also speaks on how he increased the number of African American Floridians serving in the judiciary by 43%, and that state use of minority-owned businesses tripled. "You can't serve all the people unless you represent all the people, and we did it," he says.
Back to education, Bush says, "We applied conservative principles fairly, without wavering," while implementing adult education programs, workforce training, and expanding community college systems and making them more affordable.
On criminal justice system:
"We didn't want to fill prisons with non-violent offenses. We expanded drug courts and created prevention programs ... Real justice has got to also include restorative justice."
"I opened the first faith-based prison and promoted the hiring of ex-offenders," he says, also stating that violent crime went down to a 27-year low. "Social progress is always the story of widening the circle of opportunity." A man of mystical proverbs, J.B. is.
Back to education:
"I believe in the right to rise in this country, and a child is not rising if he's not reading." Ah, was Clinton's "right to rise" comment earlier a direct jab at Jeb? Bush goes on to state that graduation rates went up 50% while he was in office and that we became a leader in early childhood education. He says that among minority children, Florida showed the greatest gains in the U.S.
"The War on Poverty, while well-intentioned, has been a losing one ... One of the best anti-poverty programs is a strong family." Bush emphasizes the importance of the nuclear family unit with two parents, calls for fathers to take more responsibility for their children, and says that while in office he doubled our efforts to collect child support payments for single moms.
Morial comes back out to ask if Bush could speak on the state of millennials and/or the wealth gap and small business —
"Our government is obsolete — millennials are frustrated with that because they are much more tech-savvy." Interesting stuff!
"The access to credit issue has been made worse by the most complicated financial regulatory system. If we are going to be serious about making sure the next generation of entrepreneurs can get capital, we better protect our community banks."
All things considered, this morning's presidential plenary featured a range of interesting points on the issues facing urban communities from a few of the 2016 race's strongest candidates, with education and criminal justice reforms an appropriate focus at a conference whose theme was "Save Our Cities: Education, Jobs & Justice."
Clinton and Bush, who were speaking at the same event for the first time, stole the show by far, although Bush could have done a better job relating his points to the room and organizing them in a more effective way. Clinton appealed most to the crowd's emotions with her emphasis on empathy and her call for Americans to do some "soul searching" and also gave the most coherent and effective speech overall.
The other three candidates did their best to keep up, with Sanders holding his own on the charisma and relatability fronts, but they ended up feeling a bit like filler to an event that ran nearly an hour overtime.