Donna Edwards is a member of the United States House of Representatives, serving the people of Maryland’s 4th congressional district which comprises most of suburban Prince George’s County just outside the nation’s capital. Rep. Edwards, a lawyer and community activist, defeated Albert Wynn, a 15 term incumbent in the 2008 Democratic primary. She had served on Albert Wynn’s staff when he was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. Both Edwards and Wynn are African-American, and Rep. Edwards is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the collective of Blacks serving in Congress.
Today, Rep. Edwards is a candidate for the seat of the retiring United States Senator representing Maryland, Barbara Mikulski. There are currently no Black women serving in the upper house of Congress but this year there is the possibility for the election of two, Edwards and California Attorney General Kamala Harris; a fellow Democrat. This is where this story goes off the rails a bit.
Despite Rep. Edwards incumbency, usually insurance for a candidate, and the absence of Black women in the Senate, the political action committee of the Congressional Black Caucus has endorsed her opponent, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a white male and Democrat. Now, let’s be clear, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC is a different organization than the Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the latter being the sponsor of the Annual Legislative Caucus that brings thousands to the nation’s capital every September. The PAC has a different Board, comprised of corporate types, but in this age of money politics it is playing an outsized role in the Edwards v. Van Hollen contest. And the fact that Edwards former boss and opponent Albert Wynn serves on the PACS’s Board should raise more than a few eyebrows.
I take personal interest in this race and the business of the Congressional Black Caucus for several reasons. First, my former political science professor and adviser at Morgan State University, the late Dr. Augustus Adair, was the first Executive Director of the Caucus. During my undergraduate days “Gus” would speak of the Caucus as an important institutional conduit to Black political empowerment and fervently believed that changing public policy was the key to uplifting African-Americans. It was Professor Adair’s perspective that ultimately influenced my decision to pursue public policy over law in graduate studies. The second reason this race intrigues me is that I once lived in Prince George’s County and that experience along with my years living in Baltimore, and my Alma Mater and family in the state, has made Maryland my ‘second home.’
Perhaps though, the larger issue that causes me great concern is our seeming inability, as African-Americans in the political sphere, to seize opportunity when it presents itself. While I would never advocate for a candidate simply because of the individual’s race, in this instance Rep. Edwards has shown herself to be competent and has been repeatedly elected by her constituents. It is likely why recent polls have her with a slight lead. Yet, a political action committee that carries the name, if not embracing the brand, of the Congressional Black Caucus has thrown its support behind her opponent while at the same time endorsing the presidential candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton. It seems the “Black” in the name of the PAC is simply for effect.
Even more troubling is the sense of dismissal of the earned aspirations of a Black woman at the same time some CBC members and others criticized President Obama for not considering an African-American for the Supreme Court. Huh? This is hypocrisy in full effect. The Supreme Court is a long shot but the odds of electing Edwards in a state where Blacks are a third of the population and have political strength in at least two areas – Baltimore and Prince George’s County – are extremely good. The only reason the state has a Republican governor is that the Black, former Lt. Governor, a Democrat, ran a disastrous campaign. The numbers are ripe in Maryland for the election of Edwards.
We are on the cusp of electing two very capable Black women to the United States Senate; two Black women who will bring a different perspective to a body that remains the domain of white men and it seems, at least in the case of Edwards, some Black men are, well, trippin’. Is this payback against Edwards by a politically jilted opponent? Did Rep. Edwards cross someone or not show deference to her more senior CBC colleagues? This race has all the makings of a cable television ‘reality’ show.
This is the type of nonsense that leaves me and many others scratching our heads in bewilderment. I am certain my friend Professor Adair is in heaven twiddling his thumbs, as he was known to do when confronted with situations that seemed as though Blacks were working against our political interests. It is why the question of leadership and the accountability of those in leadership positions in the African-American community has to be debated. The behavior of the CBC PAC is counter to the very reason that the Congressional Black Caucus was founded and though the PAC claims independence, its very name carries with it an obligation to be at least morally in sync with the philosophical roots of the Caucus.
My hope is that Rep. Edwards and California Attorney General Kamala Harris will win election to the Senate. They will bring the voices of Black women to the floor of the Senate and perhaps further liberate a Caucus that seems to have become part of the old boys’ network on the Hill.
Walter Fields is the Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.