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Sen. Brown rejects forum in Roxbury

Peter Van Delft

On September 26, a political forum will be held inside the Roxbury Community College Media Arts Center that will offer constituents the chance to solidify or perhaps even reconsider their intentions about which candidate they will select to represent them in Congress this election day.

 The forum is hosted by the New England Area Conference (NEAC) and co-sponsors include: ABCD (Action for Boston Community Development), the Black Ministerial Alliance, Community Change, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, the Madison Park Development Corporation, the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO), MassVote and Oiste.

 With polling that shows challenger Elizabeth Warren beginning to take a slight lead over incumbent U.S. Sen. Scott Brown with less than two months to go, and a critical voting bloc up for grabs, the forum will also provide candidates with a prime opportunity to make their case to the people.

 But according to Juan Cofield, President of NEAC, only one of the two candidates is scheduled to attend what will most likely be the only forum speaking to communities of color.

 Warren accepted NEAC’s invitation, responding shortly after the initial letter was distributed, Cofield said, while the deadline passed without a response from the Brown campaign. Extending the deadline in a last-ditch attempt to have Brown participate in the event, it was only after the extended deadline had passed that Cofield received a reply from Vincent Voci, Brown’s campaign scheduler.

 In his letter to Cofield, Voci wrote, “Senator Brown has committed to six debates, including the two radio debates. By Election Day, Senator Brown will have participated in six debates, the most of any incumbent Massachusetts senator in 16 years. This fall, voters across the Commonwealth will hear about the very important differences between Senator Brown and Professor Warren […] Senator Brown has finalized the debate schedule for the 2012 campaign and respectfully declines your invitation to appear at a debate sponsored by the NAACP New England Conference.”

 To Cofield, Brown’s failure to recognize the importance of addressing a constituency that has historically been ignored — particularly by the Republican Party — is indicative of his values.  

“There is not another public event with a focus on people of color and it’s disturbing to me that he didn’t see it that way or has little interest, or not enough interest, to want to be a part of it,” said Cofield. “And, I think it’s a function of where he really is focusing his campaign. He has made a decision that it’s not worth spending any time with our communities and it’s so unfortunate. It says a lot about how he looks at communities of color.”

For Larry Ellison, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, it is a perceived slight that may cost Brown this time around.

 “I think it’s a missed opportunity,” said Ellison. “I voted for him last election and part of the reason I did is that I felt that [then-challenger Martha] Coakley didn’t step up in communities of color and work for their vote. I think Brown is making a big mistake by not coming out and hearing what communities of color have to say.”

As yet another positive sign for Warren’s campaign, Ellison reported that she will also be making an appearance at MAMLEO’s Urban Public Safety Alliance Annual Awards and Scholarship Banquet this Friday.

 “Clearly, Warren is not making the same mistake that Coakley did in taking people of color for granted and assuming that just because people of color traditionally tend to vote Democrat that she had their vote,” Ellison said.  

 And in a presidential campaign season headlined by two nominees offering vastly different visions for the future of America, the chance for candidates in other contests to bring a personal approach to valued constituents to make their case would appear to be a no-brainer.

 “I can’t think of an election where the policies and direction for the country were so stark and so different as they are today,” said Cofield. “Who we elect as President, who Massachusetts sends to Congress is very important. There will likely be anywhere from one to three Supreme Court appointments over [the] next four years. Voters have to decide: ‘Who will represent our middle class and people in communities of color?’”

 One legendary Roxbury native and another well-known community activist joined the chorus of voices asking just who is the “Us” in Brown’s “He’s For Us” campaign mantra.

“I think it’s very important for people to get a look at both candidates,” said Sarah Ann Shaw, community and Civil Rights activist and Boston’s first black television reporter. “Roxbury doesn’t often get the opportunity to have congressional candidates come in to speak to constituents. It’s different than hearing a candidate on the radio. People who live in the community deserve to hear from him and what he has to say in person.”

 John Barros, executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), is equally disappointed.

“The forum is an important way for us to hear directly from candidate’s campaigns about the things we care about as a neighborhood and as a community,” Barros said. “Most members of this community are people of color, and the fact that Senator Scott Brown didn’t feel that he should make it a priority to try and make the forum is disappointing and doesn’t send a good message. With the race this tight, I’m surprised that Senator Brown is not taking any and all opportunities to be in front of voters.”

The forum with Elizabeth Warren will begin promptly at 7 p.m. Attendees are advised to arrive when doors open at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26, inside the Media Arts Center at Roxbury Community College, 1234 Columbus Ave., Roxbury.