Grading Obama on progress on black agenda

By Krissah Thompson
Saturday, September 18, 2010

A group probing whether President Obama is addressing matters of concern to blacks will discuss the issue Saturday at the annual conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, hours before Obama is scheduled to address conference attendees.

Political scientist Ron Daniels formed the Shirley Chisholm Presidential Accountability Commission in late 2008 as a mechanism for black leaders to hold the nation's first black president accountable. Eventually, the group hopes to issue a report card that grades the administration on how well it is doing in closing racial disparities.

The commission is named after the first African American woman elected to Congress and the first woman to seek the Democratic nomination for president.

It wasn't formed in reaction to Obama, Daniels said. But members intend to address a growing debate within the nation's black communities over whether African American leaders should demand more from Obama on specific issues.

"The subtext is that there seems to be some hesitancy - to put it mildly - on the part of the Obama administration to overtly address issues of race," Daniels said. "There is talk about a rising tide lifts all boats. But if there is unevenness in terms of how the boats are situated, then maybe you should look at that, instead of some across-the-board notion."

The Chisholm commission follows in the tradition of the National Black Political Convention, held in Gary, Ind., in 1972, which established a policy agenda for black voters, said Daniels, who argues that there must be a process in place for holding public officials accountable in terms of an agenda of importance to African Americans. The issue is amplified by the tough economic recession, he said.

Daniels, along with some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, has called on the White House to push for initiatives specifically for minorities, such as job programs to address high black unemployment.

Obama, who has gone on black radio and spoke at a reception for professors of historically black colleges this week, has declined to support targeting programs. He says his policies, such as overhauling health care, will help blacks and minorities who face disparities - along with other Americans.

The Chisholm commission, which is still in its formative stages, includes Julianne Malveaux, a political economist and president of Bennett College for Women; Michael K. Fauntroy, an associate professor of public policy at George Mason University; and Tricia Bent-Goodley, a professor of social work at Howard University.

Saturday's session is the first time the group has met during the annual CBC foundation conference. Like other unofficial events on the schedule, it is not explicitly linked to the caucus or the foundation but involves an issue of interest to African American legislators. The session will focus on jobs, health disparities, criminal justice and urban policy. An associate director from the White House Office of Urban Affairs is scheduled to attend.

Faye Anderson, a political blogger who created the Tracking Change wiki to document whether a proportionate share of stimulus money reaches the black community, said she is supportive of the commission's aims.

"If we don't like what they are doing," Anderson said of political leaders, "then black folks should be holding them accountable."

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