Friday, July 13, 2007

"Democrats Assail Bush Record on Race"

DETROIT (AP) - Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama on Thursday derided President Bush's commutation of former White House aide I. Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby's prison term even as black men routinely serve time behind bars.
All eight Democratic hopefuls and a lone Republican candidate, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, addressed the NAACP convention. The Democrats focused their criticism on the administration's record on race relations and poverty.

``We know we have more work to do when Scooter Libby gets no prison time and a 21-year-old honor student, who hadn't even committed a felony, gets 10 years in prison,'' Obama said to loud cheers.

Aides said Obama was referring to Genarlow Wilson, a Georgia man serving a 10-year prison sentence for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. A judge last month ordered Wilson to be freed, but prosecutors are blocking the order.

Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of lying and obstruction of justice in the CIA-leak case. He received a 30-month prison sentence, which Bush commuted last week.

In their bid to woo black voters, a key party constituency, all the Democratic hopefuls shared the stage at the forum devoted to racial issues. Each responded to five specific questions from convention delegates on health care, gun violence and voting rights.

While all the candidates were warmly welcomed, Obama, who is running to be the first black president, was the clear crowd favorite. He received several standing ovations and loud applause throughout the forum, and his denunciations of the administration were the most enthusiastically received.

``I'd like to thank the NAACP for letting me follow Barack Obama,'' joked Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who spoke after the Illinois senator.

Obama, 45, said he was too young to have participated in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but said he was inspired by it. That comment prompted a mild dig from Joe Biden, who stressed his long career in public life.

``I've been around a while, and I'm old enough to remember the civil rights movement,'' Biden, 64, said, adding he was the best candidate to bring an end to the Iraq war.

Front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton predicted the forum would cover more issues of importance to the black community than the administration had in six years.

``We have a president who does not see what you and I see. ... With your hard work, we will render the people that you and I see visible once again,'' the New York senator said. She cited ``The Invisible Man,'' Ralph Ellison's classic novel of black alienation.

John Edwards touted his commitment to fighting poverty, calling it ``the cause of my life.'' Edwards will launch a tour Monday in New Orleans to spotlight the millions living in poverty.

Edwards' call for felons' voting rights to be restored also received loud cheers, although as a North Carolina senator in 2002 he voted against a bill allowing felons the right to vote in federal elections.

The topic of voting rights drew an impassioned response from the candidates, many of whom spoke of the disputed 2000 election in Florida that saw many black voters disenfranchised.

``The American people don't feel that when they go vote their vote counts,'' New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said.

Dodd praised the NAACP for holding a burial ceremony for the ``N-word'' earlier this week.

``We ought to have more burials. Why not bury neglect? Bigotry? The failed policy in Iraq?'' Dodd asked, adding that he believed every Democrat on the stage would be a better president than Bush.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel also participated in the forum.

Tancredo said he accepted the invitation to speak because his message is for all Americans. A vociferous foe of illegal immigration, Tancredo said the wages of black workers suffer because of illegal workers.

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