Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Target Inequality At Urban League Convention

Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Target Inequality At Urban League Convention


By Abrahm Hurt and Brandon Barger

INDIANAPOLIS—Five Democratic candidates for president agreed on one thing Thursday as they addressed the National Urban League convention in Indianapolis: there are still inequalities across the country that a new president must fix.

In separate addresses, followed by questions from the league’s president, Marc H. Morial, each of the five focused on what they would do to not leave any American behind if the voters hire them in the 2020 election.

For some, that included protecting the right to vote.

Former Vice President Joe Biden singled out voter suppression as “the most insidious threat to progress” the country faces.

“I can promise you this,” Biden told several hundred attendees at the gathering. “My administration and the Department of Justice will once again protect fundamental rights to vote, and I’ll lead the fight to reaffirm the connections with the Voting Rights Act.”

His call for automatic voter registration, in fact, drew some of the loudest applause of the day.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also focused on voting, saying that: “The first thing we need to do is to make sure African-Americans can vote.”

Biden and Klobuchar were joined Thursday at the convention of urban leaders and civil rights’ activists by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Rep. John Delaney of Maryland and Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, with the discussions focusing on voter turnout, racial inequality and the need to elect a new president in 2020.

Friday, four more Democratic candidates who accepted the nonpartisan organization’s invitation to speak – Sen. Kamala Harris of California, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and conservative filmmaker Ami Horowitz – will lay out their visions.

J.R. Nobles, a 35-year-old educator from Washington state, said Biden impressed him the most with his “clear coherent plans.”

But, he said, he has not made a decision on which of the Democrats he’ll support.

“I think they really hit home on the issues. Voter suppression is major, and I think that each one of them really addressed that,” he said.

Henry M. Thomas III, the 70-year-old president and CEO of the Springfield, Massachusetts, Urban League, said Booker moved up on his list by being authentic and genuine.

“But I have to be honest about it, all of them were authentic and genuine in their presentations,” he said. “It’s more a gut feeling that you have as to, ‘OK, now if you had to pick, who would you go with?’”

Of all the speakers, Biden—the last to speak Thursday—received the most crowd interaction and applause from the attendees. And he also was the most direct and critical of the man each hopes to replace: President Donald Trump.

In fact, only one other candidate – Booker – even mentioned Trump by name.

Biden said there is currently “a battle for the soul of America.”

“We have a president of the United States,” he began, before being interrupted by laughter as he made a face, followed by the sign of the cross.

“Be nice, Joe. Be nice,” Biden admonished himself, to applause.

He cited Trump’s words after the violent 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which one woman was killed and rally-goers chanted such things as “Jews will not replace us.”

When the president commented on the rally, Biden reminded the convention, “he said there are very fine people on both sides.” He also cited Trump’s more recent criticisms of four Democratic congresswomen, all minorities.

“He’s actively working to undo every bit of the progress President Obama and I and our administration did,” he said. “We have to defeat Donald Trump this time.”

Biden has led in polls so far, making him the target of other Democrats vying for the nomination. In the first debate, it was Harris who directly took on Biden. Lately, Booker has stepped up his criticisms of Biden’s long record in politics.

Thursday, Booker did not mention Biden by name, but he made a clear allusion to the Democrat front-runner as he discussed racial inequality.

“It is easy to call Donald Trump a racist now. You get no badge of courage for that,” Booker said. “The question is what were you doing to address structural inequality and institutional racism throughout your life. Don’t just tell us what you’re going to do. Tell us what you’ve already done.”

Booker, who was the first to speak Thursday, emphasized the need for “electability” and an increase in voter turnout in the African-American community.

“The truth is we need to understand that we cannot beat Donald Trump unless we have a large, vibrant turnout in the black community,” he said. “The next nominee of the Democratic Party will not win if they cannot inspire, connect with and earn the trust of our community.”

Delaney and Ryan also focused on eliminating inequality, with Delaney saying that as a white man he’s had an easier path than others.

“That’s just not fair,” he said, calling for not-for-profit banks to invest in communities that need a boost. “Nothing happens unless someone invests in a person, in a community or in a business.”

Ryan, who drew laughter from the crowd when he walked out to Johnny Cash singing “I’ve Been Everywhere,” said the systems that handle areas such as immigration, health care and criminal justice “are all broken.”

“We’re fighting over how we’re going to try to fix (them.) Is it left or right that fixes these old systems? In my mind, it’s new and better and it’s not reform, it’s transformed.”

The four-day conference – the first time in 25 years that the National Urban League has held its convention in Indianapolis – continues at the Indiana Convention Center through Saturday.

FOOTNOTE: Abrahm Hurt and Brandon Barger are reporters for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.