Friday, September 15, 2006

Why Did Mfume Loose?

“The state (Maryland) is not ready for a Black candidate,” according to Wayne, a supporter of Ben Cardin. “I want to go with a winner,” said the Black business activist. Wayne is atypical of what you would expect of a Black Democrat in the state and Baltimore. He bucked the party apparatus in the 2002 election and help lead the coalition of “Democrats for Erhlich.” His independence is couch in the unspoken rule of “What have you done for me lately?” and an entrepreneurial class who is less out in front. Instead he and those of his ilk prefer to “wheel and deal” behind the scenes.

Without being prodded Wayne cuts to the chase. “Why did Mfume loose? I think that issue over women was critical,” according to him. It’s a mantra that I heard over and over in the final months leading up to the campaign and a fear that supporters of Mfume constantly expressed.

“Is there something more to the female allegations?” Do the Republicans have something on Mfume they plan on using in the general election?” With each inquiry the skepticism was evident.

“There was no way I was going to support Mfume” says Delegate Jill Carter of Baltimore, one of the Democrats rising stars. The issue of “honesty” was a factor for her and a number of Baltimore Democrats who literally inherited the legacy of Mfume in Baltimore politics. While Carter never said directly Mfume’s dalliances with female employees while at the NAACP was wrong. When I asked her about the issue her facial expression told the story.

I don’t want to suggest that this was the only issue to sink the Mfume campaign but it was this slow creep of doubts in the African-American community and the broader community that played a factor.

Here are some of my other observations:

No Longer a Rock Star – Mfume for a generation that came of age during the 70’s was larger than life. His street credibility was cache. He “stuck it to the man” while dressed in a suit and tie. People naturally rallied to him because they saw in him themselves. The myth and the man however were never able to energize this group. While supporters were prepared to votes for Mfume, they couldn’t convince their skeptical white friends to vote for someone who didn’t look like them. Lastly, where were their checks?

Losing Hip-Hop – This constituency should have been Mfume’s from the get go. Embracing this group is double edge sword. I still believe Hip-Hop has some growing pains. This however, is the electorate of the future. By tying in with the group you tap into technology and the cyberworld in which they pulse. The endorsement by Russell Simmons of Michael Steele should be a wake up call to any Black or White candidate in the Democratic Party. Caution to Republicans being Black isn’t enough.

Money – Mfume was polling at or near 40 percent without television ads. He had name recognition. His inability to raise capital in the state was due in part to three factors.
1. Multiple races where people were begging for political contributions.
2. Should have taken PAC (Political Action Committee)amd corporate money.
3. Should have had a heart to heart talk with the NAACP hierarchy and pleaded with them to let him speak at their national convention in Washington. This would have generated press and more importantly money from those outside of Maryland during what you call a meet and greet.

Campaign Strategy – Mfume’s team while competent needed an infusion of new blood. The head of Mfume’s election campaign and a veteran of Mfume campaigns, was mounting what I believe was an 80’s style campaign. Yes, speak to many groups, get the endorsements, and raise money but this campaign lacked imagination and energy. To some extent it was wonkish.

Television Ads and Other Promotional Tools –Dropping your television ad the last week before the primary was too late. Yes, I know he didn’t have money but, it was too late. I liked the message and the tagline, “It’s not where you start but how you finish that counts.” This should have been the campaign slogan. Drop that national Democratic line, “We can do better.” (I still don’t know what this means?) The campaign should have utilized the net more. There was a 3-4 minute testimonial from Mfume running on his website the month before the primary. It talked about why he was running. The campaign should have broken this item into four different thirty second commercials. I also believe in order to reach beyond your natural constituency there was a need for a commercial that didn’t show Mfume but talked about values and Maryland. With money being spent on electronic media (television and radio) direct mail was non-existent. Lastly, radio has somewhat lost it’s effectiveness with African-American electorate because of consolidation in the industry and it’s emphasis on entertaining rather than enlightenment. The medium can be used effectively if you want to define yourself and more importantly your opponent.

Style – This item is subjective and you may agree or disagree. He needed to loose the suit coat, shirt, and tie (Not all at once). I will tell you I am “clothes hound” but, over the years I have learned to temper my own fashion tastes. I where more polo shirts with jackets than I ever have in my lifetime. Yes, there are appropriate places to put on the uniform (suit and tie). People view those in the uniform these days with an air of superiority. In a campaign it is essential that you be of the people and not above the people.

Loosing the Base – Early on in the campaign I called the Mfume Campaign Headquarters to ask a question and didn’t get my call returned until two days later. (Reporters don’t often get their calls returned right away but when running a campaign it’s important at least to find out what the question is to formulate an answer.) I spoke with several people, who aren’t reporters, who also said they had a similar experience in trying to contact the campaign headquarters. I chalked this up to putting a staff in place. People who are trying to contact you are your base and it’s important to return phone calls and get answers.

The base constiuency for Mfume is Baltimore City and Baltimore County, but the place that was most excited about Mfume was Prince George’s County (What’s wrong with this picture?).

To attack or not attack – Political consultants will tell you when you’re down by ten percentage points going on the attack is not going to hurt you. The closest Mfume came to doing this was during the live televise debate on Maryland Public Television. During the debate I posed this question to both candidates. “A spotlight was shown on this congress and the influence of money on the political process. Mr. Cardin and Mr. Mfume during your time in congress you have both excepted money from special interest groups looking to influence legislation. What steps should be taken to make sure that legislation when it is drafted is in the best interest of both the citizenry and business interest?” Mr. Mfume answered that “I don’t go around and take special interest corporate dollars” (well that’s not exactly true) and he went on to questions Cardin’s acceptance of those dollars. This was his opening to separate himself from Cardin. He didn’t.

Lastly, during the debate Mfume suggested having him face Steele in the general election would remove race from off the table. I’m not certain if that would be case but, we’ll never find out in lieu of his lost to Cardin.



At September 24, 2006 at 3:31 AM, Blogger wendy said...

Why did Mfume lose? Because he did not deserve to win. As chair of the NAACP, what did he do to advance the cause of black people in this country? NOTHING. For years, Balctimore City has been in crisis, ie. unequal schools & inadequate education, racist policing, gentrification, racist mayor, What has Mfume said or done on any of these issues? NOTHING.

He has talked, along with many older black people, about what he did a very long time ago. But, I ask what has he done for us lately? The answer is a resounding NOTHING! There are those who might ask, what has Cardin done? Probably noting. But, Cardin is not Mfume touting African name, black face, and the seemingly hollow soul. When Cardin does nothing beyond the status quo for Black people, I can live with that. When Mfume does nothing, it hurts. It hurts in a place deep down in my soul where the spirits, hopes, and dreams of my slave ancesters live. Cardin has demonstrated that he is a man, and a man of integrity. He has served his constituency of fellow white and Jewish people well. And as a result, their support for him was rightlu reciprocal. Mfume abandoned his black constituency long ago. He deserved black abandonment on election day.

Only secondarily did I consider Mfume's personal recklessness and character deficit. It would be hard to hold himup to my son as an examle of a black man of power and leadership. I do not want my young son to think that fathering numersous children with numerous differnt unmarried women will land him in the United states Senate.

That's the Black mother in me.

At September 26, 2006 at 6:46 PM, Blogger Charlene said...

Give me a break.How quickly we forget.

Did both of you just grow up or were you absent over the last 25 years when Kweisi Mfume stood up consistenlty and often times without any help to fight for Black people in this city and around the world.

I dare say that you would be hard pressed to find anyone so consistent over that period of time who didn't ask for or expect any thanks for what he did.

His role to create Black business opportunity in Baltimore, his efforts to help form the Assoc. of Black Media Workers, his efforts to fight for Black kids to have a chance to get a good education, his efforts to help free Nelson Mandella, his work to make the Black Caucus relevent, his saving of the NAACP when no one (icluding you Mr.Robinson) wanted to do a damn thing, his efforts to work two jobs for 16 years to responsibly raise his sons from a world of poverty, and the many times he went to jail fighting for equal opportunity are numerous examples of him paying his dues (when he could have easily gone off and just done something else).

I am surprised Mr.Robinson at how you decided to analize this past election. To suggest that he should have taken special interest money from the fat cats that control our communiities is sad. To suggest that some unproven three year old rumor of womaninzing at the NAACP is an equally stupid excuse. (Surley the National Organization for Women N.O.W. would not have endorsed him if any of that were true).

And to say that he needed to show up in casual clothes instead of suits is sad and pathetic reasoning. (Are you really a journalist or a player hater?)

Kweisi Mfume may have fallen short in this statewide election by 19,000 votes but it was not for any of the reasons you have enunciated.

He fell short because people look for reasons to find fault. It's one of the things that contribute to the fact that in 143 years we have elected 1,805 United States Senators in which only 5 have been African Americans.

The fact that Kweisi Mfume is the first Black person to ever run for a statewide office in Maryland is even more significant in a state where 40% of Democratic voters are black. Does that mean that he is leading us to demand more or abandoning us as you suggest?

Shouldn't we stop sometimes to say thanks to our people instead of always trying to find fault. We sure give enough credit and defference to every other race.


At November 19, 2006 at 2:12 PM, Blogger jomo said...

No offense, Charlene, but are you insane? or just living in deep, deep denial? If only you had one actual fact or shred of evidence to back up your claims that Mfume has done anything for Black people over the past 25 years, I might be swayed. But, all you have is unverified rhetoric. Kweisi Mfume is a disgrace and disappoinment as a man. He should try being a man first, and then ask for support as a politician. A man would have stood up to Martin O'Malley on his mistreatement if Black people in Baltimoore city. Mfume keeps kissing Martin's flat, white a-- (that's just one for Pat Jessamy).
A man would not have lied to America about leaving the NAACP to raise his 6th or 7th son (the others having all been neglected by him at various stages of their childhood), only to turn around a couple of months later to run for US Senate. Did his son miraculously grow up? Or was Mfume being an opportunist and trying to keep his name in the public eye so he could get a job. I am glad that Mfume lost, not that I ever believed he would win.


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