has in recent years gained a reputation as a political maverick, supporting a repeal of the so-called Rockefeller drug laws; boosting the 2002 candidacy of Andrew Cuomo for New York governor over that of African American H. Carl McCall; and making appearances in Maryland alongside Michael Steele, an African American Republican who is that state’s lieutenant governor.
Mehlman says he has spoken in front of predominantly African American crowds at 17 events since becoming chairman of his party and has plans for more speeches and meetings with high-profile African Americans. Mehlman has also formed an African American advisory committee that includes King, Jackson, and Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, welcomes the Republican competition, saying his party should be challenged to do more to help African Americans. However, he pans Mehlman’s effort as little more than lip service for political gain.
“It is disingenuous because it’s not based on any substance,” Watt says. He challenges those meeting with Mehlman to demand a higher level of responsiveness to issues of concern to African Americans.
Even Jackson acknowledges that his courtship with the Republicans could leave him jilted. “Could I be being used? Absolutely,” he says. “If they don’t make tangible steps in the right direction, I may have to flip on them after three years.”