Benjamin Cole deserved to be fired. At the beginning of the week, we were talking about the ham-handed attempt by the former communications director to Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) to quash Ben Terris’s great story about Schock’s fabulous “Downton Abbey”-inspired office. By yesterday, Cole was out on his keister after ThinkProgress revealed he used his Facebook page to spew racist comments about African Americans in his neighborhood.
Schock was as unequivocal in his blunt statement of disappointment to the Journal Star in Peoria, Ill., as he was quick in announcing Cole’s departure.
“I am extremely disappointed by the inexcusable and offensive online comments made by a member of my staff,” Schock said in a statement to the Journal Star. “I would expect better from any member of my team. Upon learning about them I met with Mr. Cole and he offered his resignation which I have accepted.”
There is a reason Schock moved so quickly. Sure, dumping Cole didn’t stop Schock from getting the leaden “Worst Week in Washington” crown. But getting rid of Cole sent a clear message to a constituency not many knows he actively courts: African Americans.
The newspaper story about the resignation touched on it. “Schock made significant efforts early in his political career to reach out to African-American voters in Peoria,” the Journal Star reports. When he was first elected to the Illinois state legislature in 2004, he received just 4 percent of the black vote. That number jumped to 39 percent in his 2006 reelection. So proud was Schock of that accomplishment that he touted it in his congressional campaign biography. During the 2012 Republican convention, Schock was pressed on whether he would run for governor of Illinois in 2014. He demured but used his experience reaching out to describe the kind of candidate he would be.
It’s a blue state. You can’t just have a die-hard Republican, you’ve got to have somebody who’s compelling enough that independent and Democrat voters will vote for him. My background as a state legislator, before coming to Congress, was holding the most Democratic seat outside of Chicago. I went from getting 4 percent of the African American vote to 39 percent of the African American vote, and I’m not afraid to go into heavily Democratic territory and compete.
In his current congressional district, only 3.9 percent of the people are African American. He won reelection to a fourth term last November with 75 percent of the vote.
During a conversation a few years ago, Schock talked about his state legislative district. I recall him being quite proud of the African American support he was able to win. And he did so by showing those voters the respect of asking for their vote. There is no doubt that Schock has higher political aspirations. By quickly dumping a staffer with a facility for racist comments and doing so without hesitation, Schock continues to show those former and future constituents respect. Would that some of his fellow Republicans were so clear.
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