Report to National Board on Cynthia McKinney Defeat

January 14, 2003


The details of the defeat of Cynthia McKinney in Georgia’s 4th Congressional District primary and Earl Hilliard in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District primary should serve to sound an alarm about the assault being carried out by the right-wing in particular against the Black vote, and overall to weaken, split and destroy progressive representation.

The situation was not confined to Georgia in this election cycle.

In Florida’s primary for Governor large-scale confusion was created, targeting many Black voting districts. Republican ballots were given to Democrats in the heart of the Black community. ‘It makes me feel that this is intentional. I’m enraged,’ responded Congresswoman Corinne Brown of Jacksonville. Despite everything, progressive labor leader Tony Hill won his primary for State Senate in Jacksonville by a two to one margin, based on a broad, united grass-roots campaign.

Hotlines set up on November 5 by the NAACP national rapid response team, People for the American Way and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation received thousands of calls about machine malfunctions, names not being on the voting rolls, and long lines.

Voters in Houston, New York City, and St. Louis showed up to vote at their old polling sites, after not being informed about any change. In San Francisco, Bloomington, Minnesota and Pulaski County, Arkansas voting districts ran out of ballots well before the polls closed.

In Texas some voters in the Black and Latino community were advised to send in absentee ballots on November 11, long after the actual deadline. In Birmingham, Alabama fliers were posted in some Black neighborhoods telling voters that they could not vote if they owed back fines or rent.

In Missouri the Republicans encouraged a former mayor to put out the word that African Americans should either vote for Jim Talent for US Senate or stay home. Divisive tactics were employed against New York Governor candidate Carl McCall, which split off sections of labor.

A Harvard study, ‘Democracy Spoiled’, estimates at least 1.9 million votes went uncounted in November 2000, primarily in Counties with large African American populations. South Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana and Wyoming all had higher rates of ballot spoilage than even Florida.

This continuing pattern of denial of democratic rights and targeting of African American voters is a frontal attack on civil rights and labor rights, and is meant to deny political representation. There is need for a new, massive civil rights movement against racism and for equal voting rights, to break down all the barriers to democratic participation and representation.

McKinney and Hilliard

What happened in Georgia’s 4th CD in the August 10, 2002 primary has significance far beyond. It is a textbook case of divisive tactics utilized by the ultra-right to subvert democracy. It is an example of racism in politics and targeting of the most outspoken, especially African American elected officials. The implications reach beyond the 2002 elections.

In her concession speech McKinney spoke eloquently:

‘I am hopeful because we are all here for a cause much, much greater than ourselves…. somewhere tonight, men in powerful positions are taking the first steps toward sending our country into war. Somewhere tonight, powerful interests are working to silence those that are a threat to their power. Every day in Congress I kept those images in mind. Images of real people with real problems. And real abuses of real power.’

She went on to say that the Republicans wanted to defeat her more than the Democrats wanted to keep her. ‘It has been stated that during wartime, the first casualty is truth. I feel this to be extremely relevant post-September 11. Our national has been strangled by fear, tangled in deception and ensnared by duplicity. McKinney dared to step out of the box and be a voice for millions of voiceless Americans…Refused to push racism under the run

A warning was delivered in the defeat of Rep. Earl Hilliard, a civil rights activist, in Alabama’s 7th district primary, by Arturo Davis, a Harvard-educated lawyer. Hilliard was targeted by right-wing Zionist forces for siding with the Palestinians. Davis was aided with fundraising by the American-Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC). Concerns were immediately expressed that the defeat of Hilliard would be used as a rallying cry to target other Black candidates who support the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The 7th CD is a majority minority district based in Birmingham and the surrounding Black Belt. Redistricting removed several counties that polled heavily for Hilliard and added voters to the counties where Davis was strongest. He had received 34 percent of the vote in 2000.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee traditionally supports incumbents, but for Hilliard their help was considered ‘too little, too late’.

Facts of McKinney election

Rep. Cynthia McKinney, an officer of the Progressive Caucus and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, was opposed by Denise Majette is an African American judge, a graduate of Yale University and Duke Law School. She was a Republican until her candidacy, and has close ties with the pharmaceutical industry. She public ally stated that she voted for Republican Alan Keyes in the 2000 presidential primary.

The McKinney – Majette primary was not close. Many factors led to the large margin of defeat for Cynthia McKinney. The largest single factor was the Republican crossover vote. The crossover vote has been downplayed in the media in favor of emphasizing defection of Jewish voters, low voter turnout by traditional McKinney supporters, and the vote by Black professionals for Denise Majette. All these factors warrant attention, but to understand the election, it is necessary to analyze the vote.

The McKinney campaign emphasizes that they won the primary among Democratic voters, using the following facts: Majette received 49,193 votes from traditionally Republican precincts in North DeKalb and 2,145 votes from Republican precincts in Gwinnette County. Majette’s total vote was 68.612. McKinney overwhelmingly carried her home precincts in South DeKalb, largely working class precincts. Majette received 25.3 percent of her vote totals from South DeKalb, and carried only one precinct, North Hairston, by 24 votes.

Of 76 precincts in North DeKalb, 54 were carried in the November 2000 elections by the Republican opposition to Cynthia McKinney. 22 of 76 precincts in North DeKalb were carried by McKinney in November 2000. In the 2002 Democratic primary they were carried by the opposition suggesting a Republican crossover vote.

In the 2002 Democratic primary in DeKalb County, 116,544 Democratic ballots were cast and only 6,886 Republican ballots were case. If all the voters casting ballots were Democrats, it would mean that Democrats voted nearly 17 times more often than Republicans, which is highly unlikely.

In the 2000 Democratic Primary 54,861 ballots cast overall. In the 2002 Democratic Primary 116,544 ballots cast, which is a 100 percent increase.

In advance of the primary election day, Republicans telegraphed via media their intentions to intervene in the Democratic primary. There was no response from the State or National Democratic leadership.

As the McKinney campaign concludes, it is clear that she won the Democratic vote. The campaign states, ‘Republicans do not have the right to determine the outcome of a Democratic primary. Therefore, the outcome of this election is not only a travesty of justice and a perversion of the democratic process, but stands alongside the Florida 2000 debacle as just as illegitimate.’

It is estimated that there were 25,000 crossover votes. Following the election, State Representative Tyrone Brooks of Atlanta, Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples Agenda, and Martin Luther King III, introduced legislation to end crossover voting. Rev. Lowery explained that the legislation was prompted by the McKinney primary in which ‘Republicans provided the margin which is unethical’.

There are 21 states that have crossover voting. This election law is supported by the Georgia Democratic Party chair on the basis of providing ‘choice’.

Five voters in McKinney’s district have filed a lawsuit in US District Court under the Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution for equitable relief, challenging the legality of the crossover vote.

The Significance of Georgia’s 4th CD

What were the reasons for such attention to Georgia’s 4th Congressional District? It is known to be one of the most ethnically diverse districts in the southeast. During the recent redistricting process, the Black voting age population went up to 50% from 46%. There is also an increase in Black middle class voters, in DeKalb.

The Republican Congressional Committee was well aware that Georgia stood to send seven out of 13 Democrats to the House, which would be an increase of four. There was the potential that five African Americans would be in that delegation, the largest of any state.

At the same time, there was a concerted effort by Georgia Republicans to break the Democratic majority in state government by combining the votes of rural Georgians with suburban Republicans. Democrats have maintained their state legislative majority with 90 percent of the African American vote plus 36 to 37 percent of the white vote.

Attention was focused on Rep. McKinney herself because of the role she played within Congress. She served on the Armed Services and International Relations Committees. She was the ranking member of the International Operations and Human Rights subcommittee.

In her capacity, McKinney did not shy away from controversial issues. She was outspoken against excessive military spending, for environmental sustainability, for trade relations with African countries, and for international trade politics consistent with American values and laws. She opposed trade of blood diamonds in Africa by multinational corporations including by Barrick Gold, an advisor to former president Bush.

Rep. McKinney was one of the first in Congress to appeal for a thorough investigation into the events leading up to and surrounding the September 11 terrorist attack. She opposed the war on Iraq. She spoke out against civil rights violations at the Lockheed Martin plant in Marietta, GA. And she emphasized the issue of increasing resources for voting rights in the underserved majority Black precincts of the 4th CD.

Rep. McKinney had a perfect labor voting record during her tenure. The labor backed her solidly, including with financial contributions. A coalition of 50 organizations geared up for the 2002 elections rallied for McKinney before the primary. In addition, McKinney had endorsements from the National Political Womens Caucus, NOW-PAC, National Abortion Rights Action League, the League of Conservation Voters, and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Breaking with his previous stance of not supporting Democrats, Ralph Nader praised McKinney for her 100% voting record on issues of concern to Public Citizen, emphasizing that she withstood pressure from the largest financial institutions. Greens traveled to Georgia from Washington, DC, Alabama, and in state to support her campaign. Nader phone calls for McKinney were taped and used before Election Day.

McKinney had a 70 percent approval rating among Black constituents in a June poll. ‘Black voters were happy with the way she served the district, but a certain segment of Black voters were very wary of her remarks and the controversy surrounding her,’ said Democratic pollster Ron Lester.

The help McKinney accepted from Minister Louis Farrakhan, who sent a busload of supporters from the Reparations rally in Washington, D.C. served to create more debates at the eleventh hour of the campaign.

Money in Politics

Majette out raised in financial contributions McKinney by a 2 to 1 margin. Majette received $1.3 million late in the campaign, largely from corporate donors, banks, medical professionals, Loose Group (a Republican conservative PAC), and pro-Israel political action committees outside the district. She also received contributions from Georgia’s US Senator Zell Miller, who represents the Democratic Party structure within the state. She outspent McKinney by an unprecedented $500,000.

McKinney’s contributions were largely from the labor movement, representing all the major unions in the country. She was attacked for accepting contributions from Arab Americans.

‘This painting of Arab-American donors and political participants as being terrorists in disguise is a garish and grotesque caricature,’ warned James Zogby, president, Arab American Institute, Washington DC. ‘ This is not about three or four donors, this is about widely targeted politics of exclusion that could end up in the disenfranchising of the entire Arab and Muslim American community’

Another source of funding for Majette was some Democratic and Republican immigrants from India living in New York and other states, who contributed $35,000. They complained that McKinney has ‘loyalties with Arab and Pakistani causes’ and they objected to her ‘remarks on religious tensions in Indian state of Gujarat earlier this year’, in which she had spoken on the House floor out of concern for the Muslims who were under attack from Hindus.

Divisive Tactics

When Rep. McKinney called for an investigation of the facts surrounding September 11, pointing out that Bush allies in the military industry were profiting from increased military spending, she was dismissed as ‘loony’ by Sen. Zell Miller. Miller’s backing of Majette represented deep divisions within the Georgia and national Democratic Party.

The media played this up, and stressed the absence of Andrew Young from McKinney’s re-election campaign. Maynard Jackson felt compelled to speak out when rumors began to fly that he would endorse the opponent to State Rep. Billy McKinney, Cynthia McKinney’s father. Jackson said that he ‘never contemplated this’.

The media also questioned by the NAACP did not endorse McKinney, leaving the impression that Julian Bond was not supporting her. Bond issued a correction. ‘Actually, what I said was that despite Rep. McKinney’s strong support for NAACP positions, officials of the NAACP are forbidden any participation in partisan politics.’

The Media

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the media played a continuing role in highlighting weaknesses and distorting McKinney’s record.

The Atlanta Journal made the issue national with a syndicated column by Cynthia Tucker in July, following the primary in Alabama’s 7th district in which Rep Earl Hilliard was defeated. After railing against Hilliard and McKinney’s opposition to Israel foreign policy, she concluded ‘All in all, McKinney, like Hilliard, has shown herself to be on the political fringe, well outside the congressional mainstream, and incapable of aiding any cause, whether an independent Palestine or her own Congressional district.’

This was followed up by a number of opinion pieces, including one by an editor at the paper, Jay Bookman, who said it is ‘past time for her to go’. Attorney Brian Westheim summarized the line of the opposition in a post-election column claiming that McKinney’s ‘divisive racial politics’, and ‘consistent embrace of radical positions and radical personalities’, and that she ‘gleefully accepted campaign contributions from people associated with al-Qaida, Hamas and other terrorist sympathizers’ indicated she had ‘lost touch with the people she was elected to represent’.

E-mail came into play, including the first use of spam e-mail with sender identity masked. A site named was used to unite McKinney’s Republican and Democratic opposition, around the slogan ABC (Anybody but Cynthia). This effort raised $7,000, sent 30,000 pieces of mail and conducted a phone tree to 15,000 to 20,000 voters. It was organized by Mark Davis, a Republican political database specialist in Deluth.

Middle East Issue

From the start of this election cycle, McKinney and Hilliard were targeted as ‘unfriendly to Israel’. Right-wing Zionist groups raised significant funds.

‘This shows that there is a price to pay for taking a position that is out of step with the views of most Americans’, said Morris Amitay, founder of Washington Political Action Committee, a pro-Israel group and former executive director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC chose Atlanta as the location for their national summit in October, ‘An inside look at Campaign 2002’, featuring Walter Isaacson, Chair and CEO of CNN.

Israel Now and Forever targeted ‘the 23 anti-Israel members of Congress’, which included Hilliard, McKinney and all those who voted ‘no’ on a resolution of support for Israel.

White supremacist organizations also entered the picture opportunistically. The New Order wrote, ‘Want to stop terrorism?…stop subsidizing Israeli genocide against Palestine’. The National Alliance spoke of ‘common cause in feeling toward Israel’.

These actions were countered by the Arab American Anti Discrimination Committee, who challenged that ‘anti-Jewish group(s) tried to co-opt anti-Israel message’.

Jews for Peace organizations in Atlanta and nationally, and Tikkun Magazine rallied to McKinney, and indicated that her position on the Middle East coincided with theirs. Rabbi Michael Lerner exclaimed ‘For lawmakers feeling pressure to bow to AIPAC, the McKinney race would be a bellwether for feeling safe to raise criticisms of Israel. Pro-Sharon forces have targeted this African American Democrat for defeat due to her strong stance in favor of both Israel and Palestine.’

Joshua Ruebner, executive director of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel warned, ‘This is a dangerous dynamic. Jews are the ones who started picking off African American politicians because of their views on the Middle East, and that was undue meddling. It is doing irreparable harm to relations with African Americans.’

Black-Jewish Relations

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, speaking of the flow of money to Majette from right-wing Zionist PAC’s said, ‘I definitely have some feelings about any outside group exerting this kind of influence in a race, and I’ve been receiving angry calls from Black voters all day, saying they should rally against Jewish candidates….To have non-African Americans from around the country putting millions into a race to unseat one of our leaders for expressing her right of free speech is definitely a problem.’

Rev. Jesse Jackson called upon Democrats to’ preserve the coalition between Blacks and Jews because they support much of the liberal agenda and are crucial to many Democratic candidates.’ Pointing out that all pro-Israel efforts to defeat incumbents have targeted Black elected officials, is said, ‘ It seems AIPAC’s position now does not place a great premium on that coalition.’

Ira Forman, executive director of National Jewish Democratic Council greeted the primary election results saying, ‘One of the most antagonistic personsof not the most antagonistic personto the US-Israel relationship is gone.’ He then worried about ‘tension between some in the Black caucus and the Jewish community. But their long-term interests are together’, essentially taking the alliance for granted.

The Washington Post warned, ‘Any increase in tensions between Jewish and African American voters could damage Democratic hopes of taking back the House and keeping control of the Senate.’

As the election date was nearing for Cynthia McKinney, her father, Billy McKinney, a 30-year State Representative was unfortunately provoked and made a public statement against the outside funding from Jewish organizations to defeat her daughter.

In his August 20 primary he got only 48% of the vote to 46% for John Noel, causing a runoff in which Noel was elected. Noel told the Forward that Jewish donations to his campaign increased after the provocation. ‘The number of Jewish folks who have called me and offered financial support has been nothing short of outstanding.’ For the September 10 runoff, a website was established to organize Republicans to crossover and vote for Noel.

Racism and Targeting

This is not the first election in which outspoken, progressive Black elected officials have been targeted. The same was done to drive the great Adam Layton Powell out of office in Harlem, and union organizer Charles Hayes in Chicago. Historically, extraordinary attacks have been heaped on elected African Americans who voice an independent thought.

In remarking on the defeat of Cynthia McKinney, Rev. Timothy McDonald, president of the Concerned Black Clergy in Atlanta addressed her contribution:

‘McKinney was defeated by the extreme wing of the Jewish community, the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which sued the city of Atlanta over its affirmative action program; the Christian Coalition, which gave us right-wing ideologues in Congress, and the Republican Party, which took advantage of the opportunity to cross over in a Democratic primary. McKinney carried the majority of the black vote in south DeKalb.

‘America lost something when Cynthia McKinney was defeated. It lost some of our commitment to the right to dissent. King said in 1967: ‘During these days of human travail, we must encourage creative dissenters. We need them because the thunder of their fearless voices will be the only sound stronger than the blasts of bombs and the clamor of war hysteria.’ Rest assured that the voices will be louder, stronger and clearer as we seek peace in the Middle East and around the world.’

The Meaning of the Results

The results of the primary opened a debate within the African American community. Some are using the election to separate from the need for struggle to achieve equality, others are emphasizing that the election shows the need for redoubled mass action. There is debate regarding relations with the Democratic Party.

Cynthia Tucker, in a post-election column, used the results to call for an end to protest in the African American community. ‘McKinney was a poor representative of a district that is home to a large enclave of economically successful, mainstream African American voters,’ she wrote. ‘They don’t share McKinney’s fringe beliefs.’

Criticizing the support McKinney received from Rev. Jesse Jackson, Tucker wrote, ‘A new generation of black political leaders moderate, pragmatic, consensus builders is coming to the fore… Jackson came out of the protest movement. But the same tactics are less useful, even counterproductive, these days. Because so many Black Americans have joined the great mainstream, it is much harder for us to rail against it with any credibility.’

Jarvis Stewart, Washington lobbyist and Democratic fundraiser, concluded from the primary results that, ‘The black electorate is increasingly well-educated, more entrepreneurial, business-savvy and politically moderate…. Many who were not raised in the era of the civil rights movement don’t relate to or see the benefit in polarizing politics’.

Along similar lines, Terry Neal Washington Post wrote of McKinney, ‘she found herself to the left of many of her black middle-class constituents…The black electorate is increasingly independent and moderate, scornful of old-style machine politics, and ultimately, less responsive to the civil-rights era rhetoric that ushered the first significant wave of black politicians into office in 60’s and 70’s.’ Neal went on to speak of the ’emergence of affluent African-Americas as an independent political base’.

While disagreeing with some of McKinney’s stands, Atlanta civil rights lawyer Ethel Munson also disagrees with Tucker’s analysis that with African Americans in the boardroom what it means to be black changes. In a letter to the Atlanta Constitution she said, ‘In the Southern states, the segregation laws have been repealed only to be replaced by a more subtle form of racial discrimination.’ Black professionals are clients due to racial bias hampering their careers. Theory that civil rights movement behind us as looney as McKinney’s alleged theory that Bush’s friends profited from 9/11.’

The Black Commentator strongly takes on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s assertions that Black voters are becoming more conservative, pointing out that Denise Majette received a small percentage of her votes from the Black community.

The implications for the Democratic Party are also being sharply debated. The general election results in Georgia in which Senator Max Cleland and Governor Roy Barnes were unexpectedly defeated, shows a divided party. McKinney had been instrumental in pulling out the vote for the Democratic ticket in South DeKalb.

‘For Democrats to do well this year they need solid numbers of Black votes,’ predicted David Bositis, senior political analyst for Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies ‘But if Black voters perceive that elections in their districts are ultimately being decided by whites and powerful outside sources with money, they may conclude their votes don’t matter and decide not to vote at all.’

Some civil rights leaders have voiced the opinion that while the Middle East controversy was highlighted against Hilliard and McKinney, more is involved. In particular, the role of the ultra-right is questioned in this attempt to defeat two progressives with consistent pro-labor, pro-peace voting records from Congress.

An intensive struggle within the Democratic Party nationally emerged from the 2002 election cycle. The experience in Georgia is very much a part of that struggle, and offers significant lessons.

Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has a unique vantage point from which to contribute to the struggle within the Democratic Party. The day after the general election, McKinney issued a statement. The opening comment sets the tone: ‘Democrats…will have to be inclusive, outspoken, bold and unafraid to challenge, and we must speak with conviction against that which is wrong.’

Reflecting on the vote in Georgia, she emphasized, ‘The Democratic Party and its leadership must look and think like the people it purports to represent. Democrats must stand against Bush’s impending war and the increased militarization of our foreign and domestic policy…The new, post-November 5, 2002 Democratic principle must be that every voter is important and every vote counts. Failure to take stock now will forever consign Democrats to the sidelines of public policy.’

Implications beyond 2002

Every aspect of provocation and manipulation was called into play in the many-sided attack to defeat McKinney and Hilliard. Not only appealing to the conservative white vote, but also attempting to split, and break off the historic Black vote.

An earlier test case was that of Gary Franks, the first Republican African American elected to Congress from Connecticut’s 5th district in the 1990’s. His votes came primarily from the overwhelmingly white affluent towns surrounding Waterbury. While he carried some of the Black vote in his working class hometown of Waterbury, it was minimal. His votes cast in opposition to affirmative action, and in favor of cuts of vital human needs were against the interests of the majority in Waterbury, and he was defeated on that basis.

The defeat of McKinney and Hilliard is part of a national effort to defeat the most radical forces among elected officials. In such a climate, developed left politics and a working class approach are key to fend off provocations and develop tactics for the broadest unity possible.

The right-wing centered around Republican Party has clear goals, strategy and unlimited resources. In the McKinney and Hilliard primaries, the right-wing was able to target key races and issues to advance their agenda. By targeting McKinney, the right-wing singled out one of the most outspoken, progressive members of Congress, and also issued a warning to the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus. Without proportional representation, progressives have a smaller voice in Congress than their constituency. Where progressives do have representation, there is the possibility of a national focus by the right-wing to eliminate that representation.

The right-wing is building their coalition across party lines. McKinney was targeted by Republicans and at least in part by elements of the mainline Democratic Party, who also would love to get rid of Progressive Caucus.

The anti-McKinney campaign made use of Israel policy to erode Jewish support. The attempts to break alliance between Jewish and African American voters is not unique to this campaign, and are related to attempts to break off Jewish and African American voters for the Republican Party. Therefore, blaming the defeat on defection of Jewish supporters should be recognized as a further attempt to inflame divisions in the interests of the right-wing, and to promote charges of Black anti-Semitism and Jewish racism.

Right wing provocations can be expected to increase in the coming period. In order to defeat the pro-corporate, militaristic Bush administration agenda, the main focus must be an eye on unity. Left and progressive forces need to be guided by a deeper analysis to avoid falling into provocations and to embrace the broadest possible coalition-building approach.

A top priority becomes organizing the unorganized and the labor movement in the South, as well as strengthening the grass roots organization of progressive forces and elected officials.

Only with mass struggle have gains for justice and equality been achieved in our country. The experience in Georgia and Alabama is a call for more marches, not less, more outreach and coalition building, not retrenchment, more organizing and mobilizing.

Delivered 9/02 Updated 11/02

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