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The forces working against Cynthia McKinney

Published Aug 16, 2006 10:15 PM

Cynthia McKinney

Progressive people across the country are asking the question: How could Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney have lost the Aug. 8 run-off election against a virtually unknown candidate, DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson?

While there are many elements that combined to produce her defeat, the primary cause was the unrelenting hostility of the ruling circles towards McKinney’s political positions and to her being an example of a form of Black empowerment.

The deep-felt antipathy by powerful monied interests to any manifestation of independence from “business as usual” politics in Washington birthed a concerted campaign to nullify the choice of African-American voters and elevate a candidate more acceptable to the ruling class and conservative whites.

The local Atlanta media played an especially egregious role in misrepresenting and vilifying McKinney’s character, judgment and accomplishments. Adjectives such as “controversial,” “confrontational,” and “divisive” were used when mentioning her name.

On the other hand, Johnson, who is also Black, was routinely described as “soft-spoken,” and the implication was that he was “rational” and “moderate.”

McKinney didn’t back down

First elected to Congress in 1992, McKinney was an outspoken opponent of the Bush administration’s policies on issues ranging from the war on Iraq to cutbacks in social programs.

She took on the blatant disenfranchisement of Black voters in the Florida election in 2000. She held a hearing that determined that Florida state officials knowingly used faulty data to remove tens of thousands of registered voters from the precinct lists for being convicted felons.

McKinney helped expose the horrific conditions of Katrina evacuees. She castigated the Patriot Act and compared it to the FBI’s Cointel program that targeted Dr. Martin Luther King, the Black Panther Party and other freedom fighters during the 1960s.

She stood up for African nations to get favorable trade agreements and loans to improve their economies.

The right-wing focused on a lengthy radio interview she did in 2001, where she commented on the Bush administration’s objections to there being an official investigation into 9/11. She stated that the public had the right to know what the administration and the various governmental agencies knew about any impending threats and when they knew.

In this period prior to the onset of the war on Iraq, any and all criticism of the Bush administration was treated as heresy. McKinney was pilloried in the press, called a “wacko” and worse.

The documentary film “American Blackout” covers how McKinney was targeted by the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) for her support of Palestinian and Arab rights in the 2002 election.

Fourth District Republican voters crossed over and voted by the thousands for her Democratic primary opponent, Denise Majette, causing her to lose her seat in Congress.

McKinney became a sought-after speaker and was featured at anti-war rallies and programs across the country.

The film ends with her remarkable re-election comeback in 2004 and shows her walking towards the Capitol, where she is stopped by a policeman who does not recognize her. This particular officer immediately apologizes, and as McKinney and her companion walk on, she comments, “Some things never change.”

Vicious vilification
and voter fraud, again

Hank Johnson centered his campaign on the much pub licized incident where McKinney was stopped by another white Capitol policeman as she entered the building where her office is in March 2006. His explanation for putting his hands on a six-term
representative was that he did not recognize her because she had a “different hairstyle.”

There was little mention in all the coverage of this episode of McKinney’s support of a lawsuit by Black members of the Capitol Police documenting pervasive and systemic racism in the agency, including the use of derogatory language by white officers to Black officers and when talking about Black members of Congress. The suit claims that African-American legislators are deliberately challenged to show their credentials even though the white policemen recognize them.

Although a Washington, D.C., grand jury declined to bring any charges against McKinney, it was repeatedly stated by the Atlanta media and by Johnson that McKinney had struck a police officer, thus “embarrassing her constituents.”

The 4th Congressional District in Georgia is majority African-American and a heavily Democratic stronghold. However, the Georgia General Assembly redrew the redlines for congressional districts in the last session and included parts of Gwinnett and Rockdale counties—suburban areas that historically vote Republican.

In the July 18 Democratic primary, McKinney received 47 percent of the vote, Johnson got 44 percent, and a third candidate, a white businessman who did not live in the district and had no history in the Democratic Party, got almost 9 percent. In 41 states, she would have been declared the winner of the primary, but in most of the southern states, including Georgia, a party candidate has to receive 50 percent plus one more vote in order to win. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters participate in a run-off election held three weeks after the primary.

The other peculiarity of Georgia election law is that voters can choose either party’s ballot in the primary. Only one other state allows members of one party to help select the candidate of the other party. In the 2002 election, it was the crossover vote of thousands of Republicans for Majette that brought about McKinney’s loss that year.

The McKinney campaign headquarters received many complaints of malfunctioning electronic voting machines that either did not have McKinney’s name on the screen or that registered Johnson’s name when the person voted for McKinney. In some precincts, the polls opened two hours late because the machines weren’t working.

Tens of thousands of dollars flowed into Johnson’s campaign coffers immediately following the July primary election. Prominent Bush supporters like Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus as well as leaders of the Georgia Republican Party sent big checks.

Johnson recently sent a letter to Jewish voters, declaring his 100 percent support for Israel’s assault on Lebanon. He insinuated in a radio debate that McKinney had ties to “terrorists” because of Arab and Muslim names on her contributors list. Much of this was a replay of the dirty politics employed in the 2002 election.

While it appears that there was some crossover voting in the July 18 primary, according to the Aug. 13 edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6,000 plus additional voters came out for the run-off than voted in the primary, largely from the predominantly white, wealthy and Repub li can neighborhoods of North DeKalb County.

It is almost unheard of for there to be more votes cast in a run-off than in the primary election. The conclusion of political analysts is that many from the ABC—Anybody But Cynthia—crowd who had not bothered to vote in the primary jumped into the run-off to help defeat her.

The article concludes that McKinney’s support in the largely Black and working class neighborhoods of the 4th District remained strong. Figures show she received 75 percent of the Black vote, but it was the infusion of thousands of new voters from the northern areas that swung the election to Johnson’s favor.

Hundreds of 4th District residents worked on McKinney’s campaign, and volunteers came from out of state as well. While local anti-war activists were visible, and Cindy Sheehan and Medea Benjamin attended a campaign event, the Connec ticut race between Lieberman and Lamont absorbed the attention and energy of national groups such as MoveOn.org and others.

McKinney did not give a traditional concession speech. She gathered as many of her supporters and campaign volunteers onto the stage as would fit to stand with her and had the song “Dear Mr. President” by Pink played over the sound system.

With the lyric asking how “he could sleep at night,” she then enumerated her many differences with the Bush administration’s policies of war, racism, environmental degradation and its failure to provide decent healthcare, education and jobs for the people of the US.

She repeated her desire to stand with the people of Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, Bolivia, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon as they struggle against U.S. domination to chart their own destiny. She challenged her supporters to say “Sir! No Sir!” to any attempt by Bush to send more troops into war in the Middle East.

The writer was an active campaign volunteer for Cynthia McKinney.