May 9-15, 2002
The endorsement of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity is viewed as a coveted one by candidates for elected office. In fact, last month when a group of ministers endorsed Bob Casey Jr. for governor, the Casey camp gleefully e-mailed press releases touting the fact. So why did the Casey camp bother to send another mailing Tuesday re-affirming the Black Clergy’s support? Because Tuesday the newly formed Coalition of African American Clergy endorsed rival Ed Rendell, that’s why. Why are these men (and women) of the cloth at odds over who should be the next governor? Politics, baby, politics.
In Tuesday's endorsement of Rendell, the Rev. Anthony Floyd, a Coalition member who's also president of the Philadelphia Council of Clergy and a member of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, said that the Black Clergy's endorsement is, quite frankly, overrated and politically motivated.
"The Black Clergy has been doing these endorsements for 17 years, so politicians seek them out, thinking they're the recognized voice' of the community," Floyd said. "But the Black Clergy only has about 50 active members, while we [the Philadelphia Council of Clergy] have 475. I can't think of any endorsement by the Black Clergy that involved more than 15 members."
Floyd speculates that the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity is still miffed at Rendell for breaking a promise to them not to run 11 years ago.
"[Black Clergy President] Rev. [Robert P.] Shine brought up the issue of Ed breaking his promise to the Black Clergy, so maybe they're holding a grudge," Floyd said. "But when he became mayor, Ed made himself very visible. He reached out to our community."
The Rev. Dr. Steven Avinger disagrees with that assessment. Avinger is chairman of the Social and Civic Action committee of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia, and says Rendell's broken promise 11 years ago didn't even enter their minds when they were making an endorsement decision.
"We didn't discuss that at all. We have a process," Avinger explains. "The candidates are given questionnaires to fill out, then we have them in for interviews. After the interview process there are three separate votes, first from the political action committee, then the executive committee, then the general membership. In all three votes, there was overwhelming support for Mr. Casey. In the executive committee's case, the vote was 19-2."
And what about the dissenters, Black Clergy members like Floyd, who broke ranks to support Rendell?
“There are individual members who have endorsed Mr. Rendell,” Avinger concedes. “While we encourage members to vote their conscience, we think members ought to abide by what the organization says.”
Yeah? Just tell that to Floyd.
"Just because the Black Clergy endorses a candidate doesn't mean a majority of their members share that endorsement," Floyd groused. "I never heard of any vote by the general membership or any interviews with the candidates. If they had them, they sure didn't invite me, because I'd have been there."