The Congressional Black Caucus, torn between two major African-American candidates in the special election to replace the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald in California’s 37th Congressional District, has refused to endorse either candidate.
The decision, in part, stems from an internal political feud between two of California’s most visible black members of Congress: Rep. Maxine Waters and Rep. Diane Watson, who split over who should get the Caucus’ backing in the June 26 special election. In the end, the Caucus declined to endorse either one in the Long Beach-area race. Waters favors Assemblywoman Laura Richardson and Watson supports Valerie McDonald, the daughter of the late congresswoman. The dispute over the endorsement was marked by heated exchanges involving Waters and Watson.
The Congressional Black Caucus’ decision was in sharp contrast to the state Legislature’s nine-member Black Caucus, which endorsed Richardson.
The third major contender in the 19-candidate field is Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, a former Assembly member and now head of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee. But Oropeza, a cancer survivor, ran into political trouble recently after she voted in favor of five tribal-gaming pacts opposed by organized labor. Oropeza is considered a strong candidate, strategists say, but her vote may cost her dearly.
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor pulled its longstanding endorsement of Oropeza and threw its support behind Richardson. Oropeza campaign consultant Parke Skelton said the decision was entirely based on Oropeza’s vote in favor of the compacts in the Senate.
The Congressional Black Caucus’ decision is the latest in a series of twists and turns that has marked the already-bitter contest.
Earlier, one of the state’s most prominent gay elected officials, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, attacked Richardson as “homophobic,” citing decades-old campaign mailers. Kuehl endorsed Oropeza, and sent out a fundraising letter urging financial support for Oropeza’s campaign.
The allegations stemmed from statements Richardson made in an unsuccessful bid for the Assembly against Gerrie Shipske, who also is gay. Richardson lost in the primary.
Kuehl said Oropeza has “long been a friend to the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community,” and that Richardson’s earlier campaign mailers “were filled with homophobic hate speech so shocking that many of her biggest supporters withdrew their endorsements of her candidacy.”
Jasmyne Cannick, a lesbian and an African-American political activist, says Richardson’s position has been distorted. “Richardson is not homophobic. Ten years ago was 10 years ago, and a lot can happen in that span of time, including education and new sense of right and wrong. Ten years ago, Richardson looked at things differently as it related to the gay community and in that 10 years, she’s changed,” Cannick said. Cannick also is an aide to Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, the chairman of the Legislature’s Black Caucus.
Shipske, a member of the Long Beach City Council, considered running for Millender-McDonald’s seat but withdrew from the race shortly before the filing deadline.
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