Monday, September 29, 2008

Barbara Lee makes move for Black Caucus chair

Rep. Barbara Lee might be running unopposed to lead the Congressional Black Caucus for the next Congress.

"I did send a letter to all my colleagues this week talking to them about why I want to be chair," Lee, D-Oakland, acknowledged Thursday. "But the election won't be until November, so we have a long way to go."

However the Hill, a Washington newspaper, reports that Lee's bid might be unopposed; only the late Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, had been expressing interest in the post before she died last month.

Lee said that her letter spoke of "confronting all of the challenges we have in this country" and having "a very clear agenda that speaks not only to the needs of the African-American community but also to the entire country." The caucus is "well-positioned" to do that, she said, having already established itself as "the conscience of the Congress" on issues such as expanding federal health-care insurance for children, combating HIV/AIDS and acting against genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Lee had wanted the post back in 2006 but bowed out to avoid a divisive race against Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich. When Democrats retook the House that November, the caucus' clout suddenly expanded; Lee noted Thursday that it now includes about five committee heads and more than three times that many subcommittee leaders.

She said that winning the post would mean a national spotlight for ideas born in her socio-economically Advertisementand ethnically diverse 9th District, which includes Oakland, Berkeley and Castro Valley and some surrounding areas, just as she has tried to do in her past four years as co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

"I always look to home to see what can be taken to the national level," she said. "We have a very unique place in our country; our districts are very clear on what's needed in a political and policy agenda for our nation."

Neither Lee nor co-chairwoman Lynn Woolsey, D-Santa Rosa, will seek another term at the Progressive Caucus' helm. Woolsey on Thursday called Lee "a tremendous leader" with whom she has had "a perfect partnership. "... We have strengthened each other."

"What she will bring to the Black Caucus is what she brought to the Progressive Caucus, which is a style of inclusiveness that makes people feel they're involved, they're heard and they're respected," Woolsey said. "And at the same time, she has a spine as tough as steel."

Neither Kilpatrick nor caucus member William Lacy Clay, D-Mo. — whose father cofounded the caucus — returned messages Thursday.

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