Despite Rough Start, V.P. Candidate Lieberman Gains Black Support
After clarifying his views on affirmative action, particularly as it affects college admissions, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., received critical endorsements from Congressional Black Caucus members at August’s Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Lieberman, a two-term moderate Democrat, is Al Gore’s choice to serve as vice president. The Democrats formally nominated both Gore and Lieberman at the party’s four-day convention last month.
Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, had run into trouble with African American lawmakers because of what some perceived as his lukewarm support for affirmative action. In particular, critics focused on comments from 1996 that appeared to support California’s Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in college admissions. Many experts blamed that ballot initiative for a decline in African American and Latino admissions to the state’s public colleges.
Asked to clarify his views, the Connecticut senator said he was “misunderstood” as offering support for Proposition 209. In fact, Lieberman says, he turned down requests to speak in favor of the plan and also did not have detailed information on the language contained in the proposal. He adds that he made crucial votes in the Senate in favor of affirmative action in 1995 and 1998.
Several Black Caucus leaders, including Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., had raised questions about whether they could support a ticket with Lieberman on it because of his past affirmative action statements. However, Waters and other caucus leaders had endorsed the ticket by convention’s end.
After meeting privately with Lieberman last month at the convention, Waters told reporters she was backing the team. “He has said enough, he has done enough and he has demonstrated his willingness to deal with issues of concern to the Black community,” she says. “I feel comfortable in campaigning for him. I was not going to do it and lose credibility if these issues had not been clarified.”
Not all prominent Blacks were completely sold, however.
“Lieberman has to indicate that he’s going to be a positive part of the team in the Gore administration and we’re not going to have to be attacking him,” says Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, senior
Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. He says Lieberman’s selection makes it harder to get Blacks to go to the polls.
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