Blacks in Philadelphia Split over Democratic Race In Philadelphia, prominent African-Americans are split over the two Democratic presidential candidates. The division reflects both the differences between the two contenders for the nomination and the changing priorities within the city's black power structure.
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Susan Phillips of WHYY: Black Vote Splits

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Blacks in Philadelphia Split over Democratic Race

Susan Phillips of WHYY: Black Vote Splits

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Just a few months ago, nobody expected the Pennsylvania primary to matter. The nomination was supposed to be decided long ago. Now, of course, Pennsylvania matters quite a lot, and that's an awkward reality for some prominent black leaders in Philadelphia who came out early for Senator Clinton and have since had second thoughts.

Susan Phillips reports from member station WHYY in Philadelphia.

SUSAN PHILLIPS: Back in August, the Clinton campaign called Philadelphia City Councilwoman Marian Tasco, asking for her endorsement. Tasco, who will appear on the ballot as a pledged Clinton delegate, says she did her research, checked with the Congressional Black Caucus, and saw that Georgia Congressman John Lewis backed Clinton. Then she took the question to her constituents.

Ms. MARIAN TASCO (Philadelphia City Councilwoman): I'm the board leader of the history of war, and I told them I have been invited to endorse Senator Hillary Clinton, and took a poll. And it was pretty much a little more for Obama, but a lot of the women were for Mrs. Clinton. And then I just checked people in the nailery or when I went to the grocery store. What do you think I could do?

The women - oh, she has experience. So you got a lot of positive feedback, I did. So I said, okay. I'll endorse her, 'cause it's a political decision. She was ahead in the polls, and I did. And a number of us did.

PHILLIPS: But given the excitement around Obama, some of the city's black politicians have changed their minds. State Senator LeAnna Washington says comments made by President Bill Clinton about Obama during the South Carolina primary offended her.

State Senator LEANNA WASHINGTON (Democrat, Pennsylvania): You know, maybe she didn't say it. But, you know, in my camp if somebody does something wrong, it reflects me. I take the beating. I have to speak up for it. She has to do the same. She has not seen anything wrong with any of this. You know, I have a problem with that. That was a turning point for me.

PHILLIPS: Looking back, City Councilwoman Marion Tasco says she's not sure she should've endorsed Clinton so early.

Ms. TASCO: I don't know, because I've wrestled with that myself. Probably I would be with Senator Obama. But I'm a politician, and we tend to make decisions based on the political climate and relationships and those kinds of things. Certainly, we have a stronger relationship with the Clintons than with Senator Obama.

PHILLIPS: The Clintons were good to Philadelphia, providing funds to help bail out the city when the current governor, Ed Rendell, was mayor. Rendell has become Senator Clinton's main cheerleader, and his successor as mayor, Michael Nutter, also came out early for Clinton.

Many of Nutter's supporters prefer Obama, but he's tired of being asked why a reform-oriented black mayor is not endorsing a reform-oriented black candidate for president.

Mayor MICHAEL NUTTER (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania): At the level I operate, I've not found a black or white way to fill a pothole, run a rec center, make investments in I-95 so it's up and running on a daily basis or invest in a child so that they graduate from high school. And so I talked to both candidates. I asked them about their views and their policy positions on these critical issues, and then I made a decision.

PHILLIPS: And Mayor Nutter is not alone. The head of Philadelphia's NAACP, Jerome Mondesire, is also a pledged Clinton delegate. Mondesire says he's getting flack from his kids and some local African-American radio talk show hosts who he says makes the false assumption that Obama is the rightful heir to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Mr. JEROME MONDESIRE (Director, Philadelphia NAACP): We've had two black mayors here in Philadelphia, for example. They were a miserable phase on many, many different fronts. So just having a person of color in a position of power doesn't guarantee that the issues that befall African-Americans will be solved. What you have to have is somebody in power who also has an agenda and the ability to make the system come together to pass change.

PHILLIPS: But having made that case, Clinton delegate Mondesire says he has not decided for sure which Democrat he'll actually vote for on Tuesday.

For NPR News, I'm Susan Phillips in Philadelphia.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You can get a look at what's at stake for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary tomorrow by going today to

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