Beyond the Rhetoric
By Harry C. Alford
There was a time when it seemed that the Democratic National Committee seemed to be invincible. It was the early 1990s and this newcomer from Arkansas, William Jefferson Clinton, was the right guy at the right time. He named a guy who came out of nowhere named Ron Brown to head the DNC. That was unheard of at the time: a Black man running an entire political party. It wasn’t long before everyone knew he had a calling. He led the DNC admirably. He got Bill Clinton elected and then the spell was cast. We had a new breed of national politics.
To everyone’s surprise diversity immediately set in on this new breed DNC. Mike Espy, a Black man from Mississippi became the Secretary of Agriculture. Hazel O’Leary was named Secretary of Energy. Ron Brown, who was responsible for this great change in a political party, became Secretary of Commerce. He was a natural for this position because he could make business deals with rapid fire fashion.
Ron never forgot about his debt to his culture and heritage. If there was something dealing with business we could rest assured that there would be Black representation.
Ron took a trip to Brazil. While there he set up an office for the Minority Business Development Agency to support our Black businesses when we ventured to Brazil in search of doing deals. That office helped the National Black Chamber of Commerce with a Trade Mission. We took 84 members to Rio de Janeiro and came out with $34 million in sales. The City of Rio de Janeiro gave us a certificate noting that we were the best trade mission ever for small business.
Hazel O’Leary was no “shrinking violet” either. She went into that Energy agency and made it clear. She put up a big banner on the second floor which said, “If you cannot accept Diversity then retirement is your option.” Blacks started dealing with Energy contracts like never before.
Mike Espy represented his roots in Mississippi like every person should – make your home better by your deeds. Everyone was enthusiastic by his energy and courage in making truth come to power.
While we were enjoying all this procurement inclusion the “Dark Forces” were not amused. Before long, investigations, charges of misconduct, etc. started popping up against our brave new stars. Ron Brown and Mike Espy had to hire lawyers and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend their great reputations.
While they went on defense to save their reputations and to keep from being indicted on various trumped up charges, Secretary O’Leary was being worn down by accusations. She eventually left from the immense pressure. Mike Espy resigned to prepare for the fight against big allegations. Ron Brown met a worse fate. His plane ran into a mountain under very strange circumstances. Suddenly, they were all gone.
As Bill Clinton went on to his second term the motivation and hope for Black business started to wither away. Of course, President Clinton became preoccupied with his own worries about dirt that started back in Arkansas. Of course, his doing “nasty” with an intern numerous times in the Oval Office really threw him off his game. The DNC became headless for a while and George W. Bush came in with his own version of diversity. It was effective and the DNC strayed away.
Then in 2008 the DNC was ready for a comeback. They put all they had into this young, inexperienced guy named Barack Obama. Somehow it worked, but the inexperience and lack of clarity made its toll. The DNC soon became a confused and misled entity.
The loss of Ron Brown was a serious void. Black owned business was totally ignored. This new DNC was somewhat hostile to Black business. They would avoid it by claiming ignorance about contracting trends. One would ask “What are your Black business statistics?” They would proclaim ignorance and say “We don’t keep those numbers.” They woud lie rather than produce.
Black business development has left the DNC agenda and all should be aware. Who they have at their helm today is a scary situation. Tom Perez, newly elected head of the DNC does not give a damn about Black business. I found him to be “tone deaf on Black business.”
This guy was Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights for the Department of Justice. I filed a Title VI complaint against the state of California’s Department of Transportation regarding its Black contracts amounting to only 0.8%. His formal conclusion was that since they were doing “some business there is no discrimination.” I was dumbfounded.
A Black group in St. Paul, Minnesota filed a Section 3 complaint against the city. They were assigned Mr. Perez as their federal attorney. The case was going in their favor and it appeared the judge was about to award people living in public housing $2 million dollars in damages. They were so optimistic until their federal attorney, Tom Perez, called the judge two days before the decision and withdrew from the case. What a betrayal!
With leadership like that, the DNC is headed south with a “bullet.”
Mr. Alford is the co–founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: [email protected].