NEW YORK—While black delegates at this week’s Republican National Convention are nearly double the number at the party’s 2000 gathering, a leading analyst of black politics says the increase is a cynical political gesture.
The GOP’s black delegates “were picked for strategic reasons,” David Bositis, senior research associate with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. The 167 black delegates at this week’s Republican convention are nearly double the 85 black delegates who attended the party’s gathering four years ago.
But this increase has more to do with Republican efforts to court white moderates and independents, than to bring more blacks into the Republican fold, Bositis argues.
“They [GOP] want to appear more moderate and diverse, when in fact it’s a white party.The additional black delegates is aimed at swing voters, and virtually all swing voters are white. This is not aimed at blacks,” he said. “The black delegates are little potted plants in the [Madison Square Garden] audience.”
This assessment drew an angry response from black Republicans.
“The Republican Party under President Bush has made a concerted effort to include African Americans in this party,” said Bush cabinet member Alphonso Jackson, who is both Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a convention delegate.
David Barton, vice-chairman of the Texas delegation, also dismissed the idea that black delegates from his state could be tokens. “These black delegates are statewide elected officials. They got there because they ran a good, hard race. Calling them potted plants—that’s a slam on their abilities,” he said.
“There have been serious, strategic efforts to reach into the black community,” said Ira Combs, an alternate delegate from Michigan.
Bositis said the increased in black delegates was also made possible by an increased in the total delegate pool at this year’s GOP convention. There are 200 more black, Hispanic and Asian American delegates this year, however there are 443 more delegates overall, 2,509 this week compared to 2,066 four years ago.
In all, blacks represent 6.7 percent of the delegates at this year’s Republican convention, a much small presence than blacks had at last month’s Democratic convention in Boston. Blacks were 20.1 percent of the Democratic Party’s delegations.
Eight black delegates were elected from Dallas—where there were no black delegates in 2000, Jackson said. Eunice Jeffries, another black delegate from Michigan, said she was elected at-large. James Summerset of Arizona said he was elected statewide. His base in Tucson is just 4 percent black.
Joe Kyrillos, chairman, of the New Jersey GOP, said all of its delegation—which includes five black delegates and two alternates—were elected during an uncontested primary. But anecdotal evidence suggests that a number of blacks were appointed—not elected—to their state’s GOP delegations to boost their minority composition.
Renee Amoore, the head of Pennsylvania’s convention delegation and the first black to head that state’s Republican Party organization, said of its six black delegates—three are full delegates and three are alternatives—five were appointed.
Alabama’s three black delegates were appointed after U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and two other whites stepped aside they could be added to what was then an all-white convention delegation.
Pat Brister, vice chairman of the Louisiana Republican party, said about two thirds of the minority delegates were appointed and the other third were elected. But, she said, the aim was diversity, not tokenism. “We wanted a diverse group. We knew the election process would not give us the results we wanted. We wanted to make sure we gave everyone an opportunity to participate.”
A truer measure of the GOP interests in diversity can be found in the structure of its national organization, Bositis said. Of the 165 Republican National Committee chairmen, committeemen and committeewomen in 50 states, Washington, D.C. and four territories, there are only two blacks. One is a representative from Utah and another is from the Virgin Islands, he said.