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Church leaders support Obama presidency

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Religious leaders from Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal and other ministries gathered at First Baptist Church in Crown Heights recently to pledge their support for presidential candidate Barack Obama and discuss strategies for turning out voters in Brooklyn. “We’re going to be doing our best to use our network of churches to help elect Barack Obama president of the United States,” said Assemblymember Karim Camara, the pastor of First Baptist, 450 Eastern Parkway. “This is a great time in American history. Our time of change has come.” More than 200 faith-based and community leaders attended the meeting and conference call inside the church, including Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois. The ministers discussed ways to engage their congregants in the political process and connect with colleagues in South Carolina to encourage voter turnout for the primary on January 26. Obama currently enjoys a double-digit lead in that state, but trails Senator Hillary Clinton among Democratic primary voters in New York by 25 points, according to a Quinnipiac University poll published this past week. “This is the most important election in my lifetime,” Harlem Councilmember Helen Foster said. “Many of us are going down to South Carolina to get the vote out.” The majority of elected officials in New York City have been backing Clinton in the primary, though a number of politicians, including Camara, Assemblymember Hakim Jeffries, Foster and State Senator Bill Perkins have broken ranks and endorsed Obama. “I feel like I’m in good company,” Jeffries said. “Our message is a simple one. On February 5, the Obama express is coming to town. If you feel like it is time for a president to restore our confidence for the ability to get the job done, get on board.” Retired congressman Major Owens delivered his reasons for supporting Obama, which involved economic and foreign policy decisions both made while they were in the Senate. “We have waited nine years for a change under Hillary Clinton,” Owens said. “Barack promises change and he really wears it well and he’ll do it. She’s voted to fund the war in Iraq, which is the reason for the collapse in the economy. We expect to support him.” Though a number of ministers attended the event, several key leaders in the faith community were absent, either choosing not to endorse a candidate in the race or having already endorsed Clinton. A spokesman for Reverend Arlee Griffin, an influential pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Crown Heights (1635 Bergen Street), said that Griffin usually tries to remain above the fray in primary elections. Reverend Calvin O. Butts III of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem endorsed Senator Clinton last weekend, joining Reverend James Forbes of the Riverside Church in Manhattan and Reverend Floyd Flake of the Greater Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens. Reverend Clinton Miller of Brown Memorial Baptist Church (484 Washington Avenue), who co-organized the morning conference call with Camara, said he would be reaching out to family and friends in South Carolina to encourage them to vote in the primary. Miller has encouraged fellow pastors in Brooklyn to become involved with the campaign, and about one hundred have called the Obama campaign to express interest. “Brooklyn is winnable and better organized than the other boroughs,” Camara said. “Delegates are awarded proportionately in every congressional district.” Camara and Miller have talked about bringing Obama to Brooklyn to speak at one of the churches, though it would depend on Obama’s campaign schedule and other logistics. For now, ministers and local elected officials seem content to spread the word to their constituents and work with the Obama campaign to turn out voters on Super Tuesday. “When we turn out on February 5, is it an act of futility? No, it’s not,” Foster said. “We expect huge voter turnout numbers. When we get to Denver, we’re going to elect him president.”

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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