WASHINGTON: When black US voters gave President Barack Obama 93 per cent support on Election Day in defiance of predictions that they might sit it out this year, black leaders breathed a collective sigh of relief.
That encouraged those leaders to try to leverage more attention from both Obama and Congress.
Although they waver over how much to demand from the president — particularly in light of defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s assertion that Obama gave “gifts” to minorities in exchange for their votes — they are delivering post-election wish lists to the president anyway.
“I think the president heard us loud and clear. The collective message was, ‘Let’s build on where we already are,’” the Rev. Al Sharpton told reporters after a White House meeting last week with a collection of advocates representing largely Democratic constituencies.
Specifically, Sharpton said, that means keeping the brunt of the looming “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and spending cuts off the backs of the middle and working class.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous aimed that same message at Congress, especially on where tax relief is extended.
“We need Republicans to think hard and to pull back from the cliff 98 per cent of our families, who make up the bulk of this nation, from seeing our taxes being raised,” Jealous said.
Blacks made up 13 per cent of the electorate this year, about the same as 2008, while participation among whites shrank slightly to 72 per cent and Hispanics increased to 10 per cent, national exit polls showed.
Black leaders point to that minority participation as they sharpen their calls for initiatives to address black unemployment, which was 12.7 per cent when Obama took office, peaked at 16.5 per cent roughly a year later, and stood at 14.3 per cent in October.
The overall unemployment rate is 7.9 per cent.
National Urban League President Marc Morial acknowledged in an interview that “we sweated turnout All the way to the end,” because the country’s underlying economic conditions made it tougher to mobilize black voters.
Within days of the election, Morial sent to Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi an “urgent petition” asking that Obama’s second term focus on economic opportunity and income inequality.