Obama Adviser Meets with D.C. Residents
||Washington Informer (DC)
||Thursday, May 19, 2011
One of President Obama’s key advisers on issues regarding the Black community recently met with a group of Washingtonians to answer questions about the administration’s policies on a variety of topics, especially the District’s political status.
Michael Blake, the director of African American and Minority Outreach in the Office of Public Engagement for the Obama administration, served as the keynote speaker at a White House Community Forum, at All Souls Church, Unitarian in Northwest on Wed., May 11. Blake, 27, told the 200 residents who attended that the president supports granting full political rights to D.C. residents.
“President Obama has repeatedly stated that he supports D.C. voting rights,” he said during his opening remarks.
Blake defended Obama’s actions on April 8 in which he compromised the District’s right to supervise its own program and allow low-income women to have abortions. He said that the president was forced to make a concession to the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to avoid a federal government shutdown.
The president’s deal with congressional leaders on the abortion issue and the re-authorization of the D.C. school voucher program without consulting District political leaders led to the historic arrest of 41 Washingtonians, including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown and some members of the D.C. Council, on April 11 in front of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Northeast. The arrests generated worldwide attention on the District’s lack of voting representation in the Congress despite the fact that Washingtonians pay federal taxes.
Obama won the District with 92 percent of the vote in the November 2008 general election, giving him his highest voting percentage of any of the presidential electoral jurisdictions.
However, some District residents feel that the president has abandoned them.
“We gave you 92 percent of the vote and he has given the stiff to the District of Columbia,” said Mark Plotkin, a political commentator and analyst for WTOP-FM radio who attended the forum.
“Going to Ben’s Chili Bowl is not a policy toward the District of Columbia. The president has not had one public utterance to D.C. in D.C. about D.C.”
Plotkin, a dyed-in-the-wool D.C. statehood advocate took the discussion a step further and requested that Blake ask the president to address the District’s disenfranchised state.
Blake also talked about why the first family has not joined a local church.
“Obama is sensitive to what people will have to go through in terms of security if they join a church,” Blake, a member of Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast, said.
“They do not want that continuing interruption. People should not have to go through that just to worship.”
Blake said that District residents, like all Americans, have benefitted from Obama being in the White House.
“The Small Business Administration has put 976 loans, worth nearly $350 million, into the hands of small businesses in the Washington, D.C. metro area,” he said.
“Of those, 115 went to African-American owned businesses, worth nearly $24 million.”
He cited the president’s programs that include: allowing tax credits for small businesses to offer health insurance to their employees; an early retiree insurance project and an initiative to delay mortgage payments up to six months due to unemployment. Blake said the programs and initiatives will “help D.C. residents and all Americans.”
Leo Alexander, who ran for mayor in the September 2010 Democratic Party primary, said that he was skeptical about what Blake was going to say on behalf of the administration.
However, Alexander, 47, said that Blake’s presentation sold him on Obama’s commitment to African Americans and to the District, but wonders why the word is not getting out.
“Could it be that there are people in the administration who are afraid that Obama is being too nice to Black people?” Alexander asked.
“Are there some people in the administration who think that being too nice to Blacks would offend White people? Obama needs to get the word out to Blacks because if he does not, the same level of motivation that put him in office in 2008 may not be there in 2012,” he said.