Notes from Steele Endorsement by Russell Simmons/Cathy Hughes
The arrival of an invitation for a Steele Fundraiser in Baltimore on August 24, 2006 was nothing new, except this was an endorsement event featuring Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and Black media entrepreneur Cathy Hughes and founder of Radio One. While Simmons’ endorsement was not unusual, (he had allowed Steele to host a party during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York at the 40/40 Club) Hughes endorsement seemed highly unusual.
Hughes involvement in politics dates back to her first radio station purchase of WOL-AM in Washington, D.C. She dropped the music format and devoted the station to all talk, all the time. As the CEO, Business Manager and host of the Afternoon drive slot she routinely derided companies and politicians to purchase time on the station or face public ridicule. Additionally, she aligned herself with Democratic candidates both locally and nationally. Their appearances on the airwaves of WOL gave them a platform in the District in the wake of Republican Presidents and GOP control of both houses of congress.
The week before this event Steele received an award from Hughes at the Radio One Awards in Washington, DC. On hand was a who’s who in hip-hop and the rest of the music world but this is politics. I wanted to know how this would affect her standing with Democrat allies like Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson, and Senator Barrack Obama? I also wanted to know why Steele rather than Kwiesi Mfume, the former Congressional Black Caucus Chair and NAACP CEO? Mfume was a constant presence in her radio hosting days.
When I arrived at the fundraiser I was astonished to see a number of 18-34 year olds (Hip-Hop demographic numbers). The event was held at the New Douglas/Isaac Meyers Maritime Park near Baltimore’s Fells Point. With the water as a backdrop and 120 foot yacht called “Reenergized” adorned with Steele poster it had the feel of a “throw-down” rather than a fundraiser. Add to the mix DJ Kid Capri and the buzz was pure hip-hop.
Steele meandered his way through several private meet and greets before going upstairs for the formal announcement. As many of the attendees made their way to the room for the announcement I began to wonder if Republicans had found Hip-Hop (I had asked this question before on my Blog Site, Charles Black Politics Blog.).
This hip crowd with Blackberry’s, cell phones, and text messengers is truly the untapped voting block that is up for grabs. They have heard their parent’s arguments for the Democratic Party, and questioned “What have they done for you lately?” This group is tired of token faces and stories of how people marched for civil rights. Yes, they are keenly aware of historical significance but, are less tied to history. Their manta seems to be “What can you do for me now?” Sure they questioned what GOP has for them but, in Steele they see him as hip and an entrée into a world of power and influence.
When Simmons leaps to the stage he is dressed in his typical minimalist wardrobe, (I do believe the yoga has mellowed him) t-shirt, jeans, and Phat Farm sneakers. The hip-hop impresario explains to crowd how he “wants to lift people out to poverty” and to remove so called Rockefeller drug laws which send “people through a cycle of criminal behavior.” Simmons told the crowd every time he has a discussion with Steele “the discussion boils down to education and opportunity,” and with that he introduced Steele as the next United States Senator from the State of Maryland.
As Steele makes his way to the podium some one yells, “Steele for President,” “Yea, let me just let get through LG (Lieutenant Governor) first,” as the candidate soaks up the adulation of the crowd. He reminds the crowd of how cool it is to be endorsed by Simmons (especially while wearing a Phat Farm Suit).
At the top of the stump speech he apologizes for Cathy Hughes absence because of family illness but, he reminds the group that “she is on board and is a part of the new team.”
Steele points out the significance of being at this location, “Frederick Douglass first set foot (at this dock) in Baltimore as a slave… a generation after Mr. Douglass, a man named Isaac Myers created the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry-dock Company, one of the most successful black owned businesses in Baltimore. I can not think of two of the more appropriate symbols for our message tonight.”
Steele has championed a message Democrats have shied away from “creating legacy wealth.” The concept has deep traditions in the African-American community. From the time of slavery through the civil rights generation each group has looked to better the next. In those early days just out of slavery it was the purchase of land, from the 50’s through the 70’s it was education, and from the eighties to now it has been wealth creation through a business model.
Borrowing from a hip-hop advertising slogan Steele launches into “changing the game.” He believes everyone will have an opportunity to be involved in something important and everyone will benefit. “The greatest empowerment tools not only in the African-American community, in fact all communities is the creation of legacy wealth.” He calls it the new definition of the civil rights movement in the 21st century. He points to early efforts at integrating lunch counters, now “this generation is empowered to own the dinner.”
Steele a student of history has used it to his advantage. He made reference to a description of the state of the Black Community that caused him to pause.
“The African-American baby born in America today regardless of the section of the nation in which he is born, has about one half as much chance of completing high school as a white baby born in that same place on the same day; a one third as much chance of completing college; one third as much chance of becoming a professional man or woman; twice as much chance of becoming unemployed; about one seventh as much chance of earning ten thousand dollars a year; a life expectance which is seven year’s shorter; and the prospect of earning half that during their lifetime.”
The irony, the passage he quoted was from President John F. Kennedy in 1963. It could easily apply to today’s African-African community.
With that he did something very un-Republican. Steele laid out an anti-poverty agenda that he would put forth if he were elected. Few politicians would tackle this subject and the subject would raise eyebrows and bear the scorn of conservatives of the party. Conservatives in the GOP have derided the New Deal legislation for years for its social programs (welfare) and entitlement programs (social security, Medicare, and Medicaid).
“We’re not going to talk about poverty in the senate we’re going to act to relieve this nation of the scourge of poverty…Empowerment creates opportunities that poverty will never let you see. I’m tired of people being blind.”
He recognizes that neither party will be receptive to idea. Utilizing a Clinton-ness tactic (stealing your opponents thunder) Steele suggested that the minimum wage be increased calling it a training wage. Conversely, he said the Democrats must give on tax breaks for small businesses. He then launched in to a litany of initiatives including reforming public schools, increasing Pell grants, expanding work-study programs for colleges and lastly he chastised the poverty exposed by the fallout from Hurricane Katrina.
If that wasn’t enough the senate candidate called for a new Marshall Plan for the Gulf Coast. I’m thinking he has truly gone off the deep-end. Most in the audience correctly thought he was talking about America’s role in rebuilding war ravaged Europe. Steele corrected us who were thinking about that plan, “right idea wrong Marshall. I’m talking about a Throughgood Marshall Plan. Quoting the former Supreme Court Justice, “none of us has gotten where we are by pulling up by our bootstraps. Someone bent down and helped us.” He proceed to name those who historically have help others, “Frederick Douglass, Isaac Myers, Kathy Hughes, Russell Simmons and oh Senator Steele,” as the crowd cheered.
In closing he asked the crowd to send him to the senate where “he can shake up a few things.” Whew, it wasn’t what I expected.
Steele has been on an anti Republican stump for the last month. Revelations about him and the party have trickled out. Does this mean he has the approval of White House operatives to run against the GOP. The strategy looks receptive especially in a state that is 3 to 1 democrat. He’s also taping into a constituency whose loyalty factor hasn’t been tested.
Afterward I question Steele’s press people about him sounding more like a independent rather than a Republican. “No, No, No he’s a Republican make no doubt about it.”