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Two Republicans Reject Urban League Invitation

March 23, 2007 by  
Filed under Politics

( Republican presidential candidates Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney are skipping the National Urban League’s annual conference this summer, and league president Marc Morial wants them to know he’s not happy about it.

“We’re sending notice, not just to the Republicans, but to all the candidates, that you’re not going to ignore us,” said Morial, the former New Orleans mayor who has led the black civil rights organization since 2003.

Speaking with The Politico to make clear his displeasure, Morial said he found it puzzling that the former New York mayor and former Massachusetts governor would not address his organization in July.

“It’s an opportunity for them to speak to a very influential audience before a nonpartisan organization that has a history of being fair and balanced,” Morial noted. “It sends an incredible message that you’re not even going to go to the Urban League,” which will convene in St. Louis.

Considered to be more moderate than its contemporary civil rights group, the NAACP, the Urban League has drawn President Bush to its annual conference three times since he was elected in 2000, including in 2004, when Bush appeared a day after his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry. An Urban League spokesperson pointed out that Bush and former Vice President Al Gore attended the conference in 1999.

While Bush is unpopular among many blacks, Ken Mehlman, Bush’s handpicked chairman of the Republican National Committee, made reaching out to black voters a focal point of his two-year tenure.

Morial said he sent invitations in November to allow candidates plenty of lead time. He promised that his intent was “not to set them up in a ‘gotcha’ environment,” but rather to allow candidates to take their case to thousands of black voters. “I can’t promise how the audience will react, but I can commit that there will be a mic and an opportunity for them.”

He conceded that the GOP had “some challenges” with African-Americans but said the black vote is “up for grabs, and nobody can take it for granted.”

Giuliani and Romney could face significant obstacles in trying to appeal to black voters. As mayor, Giuliani had a rocky relationship with many black New Yorkers because of what some saw as his heavy-handed law enforcement policies. Romney, a Mormon, is likely to meet resistance because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints did not allow blacks into the priesthood until 1978.

Giuliani’s camp said they had a previous commitment that conflicts with the conference but wouldn’t say what that was.

Giuliani “looks forward to an ongoing dialogue with all those helping to ensure our cities and communities continue to thrive,” said spokeswoman Maria Comella.

Asked why Romney’s campaign rejected the invitation, spokesman Kevin Madden also cited a scheduling conflict, though he declined to specify what it was.

Morial said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has not replied.

“It’s something we’re certainly considering,” was all McCain spokesman Danny Diaz would say.

Morial said he was not picking on the Republican Party, but rather seeking to shine a light on the lip service he said some politicians pay his community. “We’re not interested in Democratic or Republican drive-by politics,” he said.

None of the major Democratic candidates has sent in an RSVP, a spokesperson for the group said.

As for Giuliani and Romney? “I hope they reconsider,” Morial said.

By: Jonathan Martin

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