Elizabeth Warren meets with reporters after last Wednesday’s forum at RCC, which Sen. Scott Brown declined to attend.
(Yawu Miller photo)
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s decision to skip a candidates forum at Roxbury Community College last week may well have been in his best interest.
That was no clearer than when challenger Elizabeth Warren received a standing ovation from the audience that gathered in the Media Arts Center at Roxbury Community College. And that was before she even sat down.
Judging from the frequent applause, Warren’s economic justice campaign themes resonated with the crowd of electoral activists that gathered for the forum, which was sponsored by a coalition of groups representing people of color.
Warren ’s in-depth discussion of predatory lending practices by major U.S. banks and its effects on the black middle class provided a stark contrast to Brown’s campaign messaging, which has largely centered around Warren’s claims of Native American heritage and his allegation that she played it to her advantage in securing jobs.
With Brown out of play, the forum remained focused on Warren’s calls for greater regulation of the financial industry and greater protections for working families.
Tufts University Professor James Jennings posed the questions, beginning by asking Warren about her focus on the middle class.
“America’s middle class has really been the defining economic engine of the 20th century,” she said. “It’s starting to crack.”
Warren went on to describe the disparate impact the financial crisis has had on black families, leading to disproportionately high rates of job loss and foreclosures.
“The financial crisis — particularly mortgages — has devastated the black middle class,” she said, explaining that housing constitutes the majority of the wealth in the black community.
“It hit everyone hard, but it hit communities of color much harder. There will be consequences that will be felt for a generation. It’s a terrible thing.”
Warren told the audience she would work with the Obama administration to protect the interests of middle class and working class people in the Massachusetts economy.
“What’s at stake in this election is whether Boston will have a federal partner,” she said. “Mayor Menino does a great job. Governor Patrick does a great job. They need a strong partner in Washington.”
For Warren, Boston’s black community represents perhaps one of her strongest voting constituencies, and one of Brown’s worst. In the 2010 special election where Brown won the U.S. Senate seat, he lost Roxbury’s Ward 12, gaining just two percent of the vote. And in Dorchester’s Ward 14 — the geographical center of the city’s black community — Brown barely garnered one percent of the vote.
While Brown has visited parts of Dorchester in the last year — including a photo op shooting hoops at a Boys and Girls Club and an obligatory visit to the Eire Pub — he’s made few if any campaign stops the city’s black community.
Brown’s weak showing in 2010 in the black community, despite a near-absence of campaign activity from his Democratic opponent, underscores the historic Democratic bent among the nation’s blacks.
This year, with President Obama and former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney locked in a close race for the presidency, black voters in Massachusetts may be even more primed to turn out in this year’s Nov. 6 Election Day.
“The reality is that communities of color could be a major factor in this year’s election and we intend to be,” said NAACP Boston Branch President Michael Curry. “That’s why there’s so much effort to get out the vote this year.”
The NAACP is part of the RoxVOTE Coalition, which sponsored last week’s candidates forum, and is one of several get-out-the-vote efforts active in the black community this fall. The coalition has been canvassing precincts in Roxbury, registering voters and coordinating phone banks aimed at reminding infrequent voters to vote on Election Day.
“The frequent voters know where their polling place is and when the polls close,” explained Hasib Shaikh, civic engagement coordinator for Madison Park Community Development Corporation, which runs RoxVOTE. “Infrequent voters might need that extra reminder. We’re here as a community resource for them.”
RoxVOTE will also host debate watch parties, including one next Wednesday, Oct. 10 and another Wednesday, Oct. 22. Both events are free and begin at 6 p.m. at Hibernian Hall.
“We want to get people talking about the issues in the presidential race,” said Angela Kelly, assistant director of community action at Madison Park.
In other parts of Boston, groups including MassVOTE are engaging in non-partisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. Union-backed efforts, like MASSUniting and the Service Employees International Union community are also organizing in Boston, as well as in Springfield, Holyoke, Worcester, Lynn and Lawrence.
While get-out-the-vote efforts in the black community will likely to play to the advantage of the Warren campaign, her organization doesn’t seem to be taking the vote for granted. The campaign has opened offices on Tremont Street in Lower Roxbury and Washington Street in Grove Hall.
For at least one voter, those offices make all the difference in the world.
“I love to see a candidate in the community,” said Roxbury resident Rob Plummer. “With her headquarters in the community, it’s clear she’s fighting the fight.”