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Black political leaders form own group after endorsement snub

Saturday, May 03, 2003

By Mike Bucsko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A group of black community activists and leaders said they are tired of being ignored and insulted by the powers-that-be, so they are forming an independent organization to harness the political power of blacks in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

To announce the formation of the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly, the group gathered yesterday in a mock funeral service around a casket that represented black political apathy at Freedom Corner at Centre Avenue and Crawford Street in the Hill District.

"We are burying black political apathy at an undisclosed location where it can't be resurrected," said the Rev. Thomas Smith of Monumental Baptist Church, one of the event's organizers.

Smith and others, including former Pittsburgh Board of Education member Rick Adams, cited a litany of reasons why an organization for black political empowerment is needed.

At the top of the list was the Allegheny County Democratic Party's failure to endorse former County Council president James Simms for county controller in the May 20 primary election. Instead, the committee endorsed Mark Flaherty, which the black organization called a "little known son and nephew of past leaders of a Pittsburgh political dynasty."

Flaherty, a newcomer on the political scene, is the son of former county commissioner Jim Flaherty and nephew of former Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty. Simms resigned his County Council position to run for controller.

The county's Democratic Party is "no longer effective" and does not perform the outreach in black neighborhoods that was historically part of its operations, Smith said. Consequently, the county's blacks have to find their own way politically, he said.

"We will no longer accept that type of leadership," Smith said.

The new political organization will be based on a similar one that existed in the early 1970s, the Allegheny County Black Political Assembly, and on similar groups around the country.

The group will have three goals, Smith said. Those goals are to educate voters, register more voters and conduct an independent get-out-the-vote campaign.

The group wants to remain independent so its members and the 100,000 black voters in the county will not be beholden to one party or another, Smith said. To accomplish that goal, the members will have to conduct a grass-roots campaign to bring people into the movement and convince them to participate in the political process, Adams said.

"We've got to hit the streets like we used to," Adams said.

The Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly will have its first meeting May 10 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Second Baptist Church, 108 W. 12th Ave., Homestead. Those interested can call 412-242-4690, send e-mail to WPBPA_1@hotmail.com or write to P.O. Box 5119, Pittsburgh 15206.


Mike Bucsko can be reached at mbucsko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1732.

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