The titans of black America turned out Saturday night for the annual Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner, providing a friendly local crowd for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry.
But all is not well with Kerry's campaign in the eyes of some of his African American surrogates who are traveling around the country to rally black people to go to the polls on Election Day.
"Everywhere that I have gone, people have not felt connected," said the Rev. Al Sharpton in an interview. "There must be a connection, and it must be on a grass-roots level. People want Bush out, but there has to be a connection and a glue between the people and the campaign."
Tom Joyner, a nationally syndicated radio personality who hosted the dinner, said he was "worried that our people are not fired up to go and vote. We are registering people to vote in big numbers, but I am not feeling the fire. We have to give people a reason to go vote."
While some black leaders think their constituents have not been motivated, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he knows how to spark excitement among blacks.
"We asked Senator Kerry tonight to talk about voter intimidation," Cummings said. "There are folks to stop us from voting, and that in and of itself will be a motivating factor for them to go out and vote. [Kerry] got the greatest ovation when he talked about not letting the Republicans take away our votes."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said: "This year the most critical issue is voter protection, voter registration and getting out the vote, in that order. The black vote is roughly comparable to white vote turnout, but the big issue is black vote spoilage, black voter disenfranchisement."
Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson thinks that Kerry's operatives spend too much time focusing on the war and what Bush has not done instead of what he did.
"I am not pleased with how they have run the election," Johnson said. "I think they have been weak for them to allow Bush to take the defense issue away for them. It is not about whether you supported the war in Iraq or not. It is about President Bush going before a joint session of Congress and saying, 'I want to go to war for these reasons,' and the reasons do not exist. That's the issue, and no one is talking about that."
The cameras were flashing for Illinois Democratic senatorial candidate Barak Obama and his wife, Michelle, at the Congressional Black Caucus dinner, but the likely future Washington couple were working hard at being humble last Saturday as they sat at the table with Jackson, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and other Illinois officials.
"We are just trying to keep things in perspective and keep our heads on straight and stay focused in the race," said Michelle Obama. "Barak hasn't won anything yet, and he has got to take this thing seriously and not take anything for granted."
When asked about her husband's opponent, Republican Alan Keyes, who is from Maryland, Michelle Obama said: "I think that it is unfortunate that the Illinois GOP couldn't find anyone credible in the state. I think there is a
wide base of talent in the state. I think it says more about the Illinois Republican party than Alan Keyes."
Even though Keyes has little chance of winning, Barak isn't taking him lightly. "For the next two months, my primary responsibility is to communicate with the voters of Illinois and talk about jobs, health care and education. If we do that successfully, we will win the election."
Of Keyes' campaign, he said: "It is not something that we are too worried about. As long as we keep working, we are going to be just fine."
Even though Dorothy Height is well past 80, the president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women is also working to mobilize voters. During the final event of the 19th annual National Black Family Reunion, Height preached to the crowd on the National Mall that too many people in the civil rights community marched and died for people not to vote in November.
"In this election year, there is nothing more important than for every person who is 18 years and older to cast a vote," Height said in an interview after the concert. "Vote for your own needs, vote for your community. We all need to vote."