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Warren, Brown vie for black votes as election day draws near

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Warren, Brown vie for black votes as election day draws near
Warren campaign Senior Advisor Steve Tompkins (R) lends a hand during a standout on Blue Hill Avenue in Grove Hall.

Warren campaign Senior Advisor Steve Tompkins (R) lends a hand during a standout on Blue Hill Avenue in Grove Hall.

If campaign signs and mailers are any indication of votes, incumbent Sen. Scott Brown might actually be doing well in Boston’s black community.

Billboards in Dudley Square Grove Hall declare “he’s with us” and cards slipped through mail slots in the black community feature photographs of Brown and black community residents.

A small army of paid campaign workers has been manning the literature drops and holding signs in busy intersections in the black community, earning $50 a day.

But in a community where Brown eked out just 3 percent of the vote in the January, 2010 special election, his campaign may be facing an uphill battle to convert a reflexively Democratic electorate to GOP supporters.

“I think he may get zero,” said veteran political activist Bob Marshall, who is volunteering for the Warren campaign. “He’s not talking about anything that deals with the community.”

Marshall points to key votes Brown cast in the Senate that he says undermined the interests of the black community, including his opposition to Obama’s health care plan and a vote against funding for youth jobs. Paying people to hold signs doesn’t earn him any points in Marshall’s view.

“I think Scott Brown is disrespecting our community,” Marshall said. “The people he has working for him are bought and paid for. It’s a disgrace.”

The Brown campaign hired Ben Thompson, who served as chairman of the city’s Election Commission under former Mayor Raymond Flynn, to run Obama Supporters for Brown. Thompson, who describes himself as a Democrat who voted for Brown in 2010, says his primary aim is to educate voters.

“This is a general election,” Thompson said. “Voters can split their ticket and vote for both Obama and Brown.”

Thompson says he also aims to increase Brown’s vote in the black community, including Boston’s Wards 12 and 14, where his totals were just 3 percent of the vote in 2010.

“The black community is not monolithic,” Thompson said. “If we accept this fact, then it makes sense to be engaged with every candidate who runs for office.”

Brown’s vote totals in the black community may not be large, but he and Warren are polling in a dead heat, so competition for votes may be fierce.

Compounding the challenge for Brown, the Obama campaign and get-out-the-vote efforts headed by union-led organizations and nonprofits will likely pull more infrequent voters out to the polls in the black community.

While Brown could afford to ignore black voters in the special election, this time around every vote counts.

The fierce competition for votes locally, coupled with Obama’s tight race against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has Warren volunteers energized, according to Brother Kinney, a longtime political activist who is supporting Warren.

“This election is probably the most important election in our time,” he said. “The policies that come out of Washington will impact us for the next era. Obama needs to have folks in the Senate who will help him get his legislation through. If we expect to have jobs and educational opportunities in our community, we must elect Obama and Warren.”

Arguing for a vote for Brown, Thompson said the Senate’s Democrats’ 51-vote majority is secure and that blacks should have influence over both parties.

“Our goal is to get President Obama and our sitting senator re-elected,” he commented.

During a standout at Roxbury Crossing last week, about a dozen Scott Brown supporters held signs and engaged in sometimes heated debates with passers-by. While several spoke to the Banner, none besides Thompson would give their name.

“We agree about more things than we disagree on,” said one supporter of Brown. “He’s the sitting senator in office. We have to talk to him and remind him he works for us.”

The literature the Brown campaign dropped in the black community – the same piece his supporters were distributing at Roxbury Crossing last week — emphasized Brown’s work with people of color. On the first side appears a photograph of Brown shaking hands with Obama.

On the other side are four photographs, each featuring Brown with black people. The message “working together for you” appears on both sides of the card.

At Warren’s Grove Hall office, one of three her campaign has opened in Boston’s black community, dozens of volunteers were present last Friday afternoon, picking up bumper stickers, placards and campaign literature.

Among those present were Ward 12 Committee co-Chairwoman Victoria Williams, political activist Aaron Jones, Nancy Rachelle Rousseau and Steve Tompkins, senior political advisor for the campaign.

“The volunteers in this community are energized for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that Warren [has] been here many times,” Tompkins said, noting that Brown refused to appear at a community forum sponsored by the NAACP, the RoxVOTE coalition and other black community organizations.

Tompkins also noted that Warren has opened offices in Lower Roxbury and Mattapan, in addition to her Grove Hall office.

“She has put campaign resources into our community,” he said. “Brown is showing up at the 11th hour, thinking it will make a difference. It won’t.”