Originally created 06/26/04

Black officials discuss vote



SAVANNAH, Ga. - As the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials meets in Savannah this weekend, an all-white slate of candidates fights for the Democratic nomination in the 12th U.S. Congressional District.

"I really believe it's a matter of economics (that a black candidate isn't running)," said Tyrone Brooks, a state legislator and the president of the association. "Because this is a presidential election year, a lot of the money that normally would flow into congressional races is going into the presidential campaign, the Senate races and Supreme Court races."

In the running for the Democratic nomination are Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow; former state Sen. Doug Haines, of Athens; Savannah attorney Tony Center; and Savannah lobbyist Caine Cortellino.

One black candidate did emerge, but then withdrew.

District 12 stretches from Athens and Augusta in the north to Savannah in the south, including the cities of Statesboro, Waynesboro, Wrens, Louisville, Crawfordville and Maxeys.

"There is only so much money to go around, so unless you are wealthy and can finance your own campaign you simply have to wait a while," Mr. Brooks said.

In this busy election year, the officials group is pushing voter empowerment as its theme during its annual summer convention.

At the convention at Savannah State University, candidates from the 12th District, Georgia Court of Appeals, Public Service Commission, Georgia Supreme Court and U.S. Senate will take part in forums.

Mr. Brooks said the group is working to make sure black voters exert more influence in the voting booths than ever before by fertilizing the grass-roots organizations that have given them political victories.

"If we go back to the old system of how we did things, we can win big," he said.

To do that, the association is working with the Washington-based Voices for Working Families, a nonpartisan, nonprofit education group.

A month ago, the group's state director, Helen Butler, opened an affiliate office in Savannah.

The group is walking neighborhoods in Savannah, engaging and attempting to energize voters by meeting them in their homes, where they might feel more comfortable talking about politics.

"That's unique for us this year," she said. "In fact, we are doing it every day."

The top issues people tell her about are jobs, education, health care and the criminal justice system.

Legislator Tyrone Brooks blamed money issues for the lack of a black candidate.