ASHLEY KINDERGAN and SCOTT FALLON
2/25/08 Rec. N. N.J. A01
There is a sense among many African-Americans in
North Jersey that Barack Obama's political success means the
country's racial outlook has changed since Jesse Jackson's
campaigns failed to attract widespread support in the 1980s.
"There is such a level of frustration about what's happening to
our country that it's created this overwhelming desire for change
regardless of the candidate's color," said College of New Jersey
Professor Kim Pearson, who teaches in the English and
African-American studies department.
But Obama's momentum hasn't always translated into an easy
decision for African-Americans about whom to support.
Akbar Anderson of Hackensack said he's leaning toward rooting for
Obama to get the Democratic nomination for president. The
28-year-old African-American said he feels pressure to support the
first black front-runner in history, but is weighing more than race
when deciding who deserves a shot at the White House.
"I still don't know who to vote for," Anderson said, saying he
also liked Hillary Clinton's experience and toughness. "It's good to
ask myself, do I want to vote for a man just because he's black, or
because he has the right issues?"
Some said they did not want race to overshadow the candidates'
"I think people are voting for the wrong cause right about now,"
said Ty Whiteside, 25, of Englewood. "They see it as history: the
first black man, or the first woman. ... We're looking at the wrong
Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984 and 1988, but did not
generate the enthusiasm that Obama has during this primary season.
In 1988, Jackson lost New Jersey's Democratic primary by a 2 to 1
margin to Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the party's eventual
nominee. But Jackson beat Dukakis decidedly in areas with a large
black population like Paterson, Newark and Englewood.
On Super Tuesday 2008, the race was much closer, and more than a
few white suburbanites wore Obama buttons to the polls. The Illinois
senator got 44 percent of New Jersey's vote compared with Clinton's
54 percent. Since then, Obama has won 11 straight Democratic
contests. Clinton and Obama are tied among likely Democratic voters
in Texas, and Obama is closing in on Clinton's lead in Ohio heading
into those March 4 primaries, according to recent ABC
News/Washington Post polls.
A different tone
Political experts say that Obama's success is partly because of
the different tone of the two campaigns.
"Jackson ran as a black candidate and Obama is running as a
candidate who happens to be black," said Gerald Pomper, a professor
emeritus of political science at Rutgers University. "Jackson made
his campaign around race. Obama is not."
But the public has also changed since Jackson's days, experts
"America is growing up. She is living up to her own principles
and ideals," said the Rev. Gregory Jackson, senior pastor at Mount
Olive Baptist Church in Hackensack.
Black women, in particular, said their loyalties have been
divided between propelling a woman or a black man to the White
House. Kena Sage of Hackensack said she thought at first that a
woman would make a better peacemaker and place a higher priority on
issues she cares about, such as health care.
"I think a lot of African-American women are torn. A lot of us as
women, we feel like, with all the drama that's gone on, a woman
could make it better," she said.
But Obama's speeches convinced Sage that he was the better
"I chose both of them with my head," she said. "But something
about Obama touched my heart."
Not everyone reached the same
conclusion. Ahmed Mohammed, 41, owns a clothing store in Paterson.
He appreciates the historic importance of the Obama campaign, but
voted for Clinton in the primary.
"He'd make the black community feel like they can do it if they
work very hard," Mohammed said. "But Bill was good, and he's going
to support her. They did a lot of good things for this country."
Some voters said they worry that, despite all the rhetoric, not
enough has changed for a black president to get a fair shake.
"I feel like Obama will be a target," said Kelli Cooper, 34, of
Teaneck, saying that she worried for his safety if elected. "People
think like that, and it's terrible."
Others are optimistic that a win for Obama would prompt further
changes in the way people think about black politicians.
"I hope he has coattails that will carry younger, fresher
politicians who can bring new energy to Paterson, Newark and other
places," said Maxim Thorne, a Paterson attorney who has worked on
Obama's campaign. "It would show in New Jersey that
African-Americans cannot only compete for local office, but
Still others wish that race weren't even part of the
"I hope they don't try to use this as a tool to split the blacks
and the whites," said Rickie Stancil, 51, of Paterson. "Nobody's
making it into a race card thing yet, and I hope they don't. He's
young, and he's ambitious, and that's it."
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