|Preachers urge voters to re-elect U.S. Rep. William Jefferson|
by Michelle Krupa, The
Thursday December 04, 2008, 11:10 AM
Two days before embattled Congressman William Jefferson faces the final electoral hurdle in his quest for a 10th term, more than a dozen local African-American pastors gathered at a Central City eatery to urge all citizens, black voters in particular, to be sure to head to the polls for Saturday's general election.
The ministers also decried what they called the "overly negative campaign" being run by Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao, along with state and national Republican operatives. An attorney from Venetian Isles, Cao has done voters a disservice by ignoring Jefferson's record in Congress while focusing on his upcoming federal trial on 16 counts of bribery and public corruption, the preachers said.
Indeed, the GOP would like nothing more than for African-American voters to stay home from the polls Saturday, the preachers said during a morning news conference at Ms. Hyster's Restaurant on South Claiborne Avenue.
"They're trying to disenfranchise us, trying to convince us that it's a wasted vote to go on Saturday and pull the lever for a man who we know is ours," said the Rev. Samuel Butler, who organized the news conference. He didn't elaborate on how he believes Republicans are trying to accomplish.
African-American voters, perhaps the congressman's most loyal constituency, comprise about 62 percent of the electorate of the 2nd Congressional District. In the Nov. 4 runoff, which featured President-elect Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, Jefferson managed to defeat Helena Moreno in the Democratic Party runoff by winning three times as many votes as she did in heavily black neighborhoods, even as Moreno outpaced Jefferson five votes to one in mostly white areas.
"This district means a lot to us because it was really created ... for the blacks to have representation," said the Rev. Zebedee Bridges, a longtime Jefferson ally. "I'm hoping that the people in that district don't sit down and let someone walk in and take our rights away from us. You really can't visualize how much this means to us. This is history."
Asked whether they were concerned that Jefferson's legal problems have distracted him from the needs of his constituents, the ministers said they were not and stressed that the congressman, as all defendants, is innocent until proven guilty.
"If you talk to the average black man, we got a legal issue, but we don't stop and forget about the main thing," the Rev. Tom Watson said. "(Jefferson) is a symbol of what it means to stay focused in the midst of challenges."
Jefferson did not attend the event because of a previous engagement, Butler said.