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Harlem Obama Support Group Kicks Off Organizing Efforts

By Jeff Mays | August 4, 2011 4:42pm
President Barack Obama is introduced by Democratic National Committee Chairman Timothy Kaine during a reception at the Studio Museum in Harlem.
President Barack Obama is introduced by Democratic National Committee Chairman Timothy Kaine during a reception at the Studio Museum in Harlem.
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HARLEM — When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, 125th Street was filled with people dancing and celebrating.

The problem is that they didn't keep hitting the streets to push for the issues such as jobs and health care reform that they elected Obama to address, according to Chet Whye, campaign director of Harlem4Obama.

"After the celebration, there was too much relaxing. When we wanted something we tweeted about it," said Whye. "Obama couldn't point to a large constituency on jobs because no one was in the street screaming about jobs."

But Whye said things are about to change. Harlem4Obama is hosting an organizing event Thursday night at The Brownstone Lounge at 2641 Frederick Douglass Blvd. The event is designed to celebrate Obama's 50th birthday and also to kick off organizing efforts for the 2012 re-election campaign.

The Brownstone Lounge at 2641 Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
The Brownstone Lounge at 2641 Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
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Harlem Bespoke

"We are going to start earlier for this campaign. We are going to shape the campaign. We are going to tell him what the issues are," said Whye. "There is no cavalry coming over the hill for us."

Obama attended a $30,800 per plate fundraiser at the Red Rooster in Harlem in March. The next month, Obama attended a gala for the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network in Midtown.

About 250 people have reserved for Thursday night's event, said Whye. Coming off of a tough debt ceiling negotiation, Obama's overall approval rating hit a new weekly low of 42 percent from July 25 - July 31, according to Gallup.

David Bositis, senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that studies public policy issues affecting African-Americans, said the group's efforts could help Obama.

"Obama's in a tough position because there are a lot of unhappy people because of the state of the economy. Unless there is a dramatic improvement in the economy, it is going to be a tough election," said Bositis. "His supporters are going to have to turn out."

Whye said he's not concerned, because Obama wasn't a lock in Harlem when he first announced his candidacy. Voters in Harlem's 15th Congressional District chose Hilary Clinton over Obama in the Democratic primary.

"In 2008, people weren't excited about him then because they didn't know him. We pounded the pavement then and we are not going to run away from that dissatisfaction now," Whye said.

There will also be more of an effort to educate young voters that getting elected is just the beginning.

"If they are complaining, I ask people, 'What are you doing about it?' and the arguing stops. We want to defer our fight to MSNBC and to the tweet instead of the street," Whye said.

He said the group's main argument for Obama will center around the fact that they believe he has done better in his first four years than any of his potential competitors would have. And if re-elected, he will be free of having to cater to individual political constituencies because of concerns about winning another term.

"The party doesn't get started until after the re-election," said Whye. "The second term is where the legacy is made."