Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, moving toward a November runoff with incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman to get the mayoral job back, is in Washington, D.C. Friday "listening and learning" at the thousands-strong Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference.
Without question, the CBC conference is the largest and most prestigious function of the African-American community in the country -- annually an occasion for serious conversations on issues affecting communities of color, plus a chance to network and party.
Baker's attendance stands out. He is literally one in several thousand.
Republicans seldom -- in fact, almost never -- participate in the Congressional Black Caucus except to breeze in and out, and this year "he may be the only one really trying to pay attention," say Florida attendees.
"The conference is a great opportunity to learn what others are doing to move their communities forward, making sure everyone has the chance to succeed," Baker told Sunshine State News.
The former mayor is a Republican and does not hide it. But he has shown over the years he is attentive to the concerns of St. Pete's black community and enjoys strong support there. In fact, in his last election, he took 91 percent of the vote in predominantly black Midtown precincts.
Though the office of mayor in St. Petersburg is technically nonpartisan, this year in particular the campaigns have been awash in party politics. The Aug. 29 vote ended in a runoff: Democrat Kriseman made up a 7-point deficit after President Barack Obama endorsed him.
Among political leaders, experts and a who’s who in media, entertainment and politics, many from notables on hand are from Florida, among them U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings and Val Demings, state Sen. Darryl Rouson, and former state Sen. Alan Williams -- Democrats all. Kriseman did not attend.
A telling moment at this year's caucus came as Democrats discovered they are losing support among black women.
At the highly anticipated Black Women’s Roundtable policy forum discussion, political leaders, activists, and experts discussed results from the Power of the Sister Vote Poll conducted by the roundtable and Essence Magazine.
Key issues among black women weren't surprising: affordable health care, criminal justice reform, jobs and public education. But the poll also found there is a growing belief that no political party represents black women. Black women’s support for the Democratic Party dropped 11 percent over the past year, signaling the Democratic National Committee has work to do.
“We found this survey to be quite revealing, regarding the shift in the attitudes black women have toward the current political environment,” Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said. “These results may well be a ‘wake-up call’ for our mainstream political parties and the folks currently holding office.”
In Florida, Democratic African American Women Caucus President Leslie Wimes has been preaching this theme for more than two years, saying black communities want leaders who address their issues and speak directly to them, regardless of what political party they represent.
Baker got that message, Wimes has said. St. Petersburg is the perfect example of a city where the political landscape is changing within black neighborhoods. "It isn't about party anymore," Wimes has said. "And it isn't about lip service. It's about listening to us, it's about attention to our issues and it's about genuinely making our lives better. I hope our party is taking note."
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