MICHELE NORRIS, host:
With Charlie Rangel relinquishing his chairmanship and New York Governor David Paterson suspending his campaign and Harold Ford announcing that he's decided not to run for a New York Senate seat, it has been a bumpy week for high-profile black politicians.
It was widely thought that Barack Obama's rise to the White House would help usher in a generation of black politicians who might borrow from his playbook for raising money and building diverse coalitions.
For a look at some of the challenges facing this so-called breakthrough generation, we turn now to Clarence Page. He's a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Columnist, Chicago Tribune): Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: Now, very different men we mentioned facing very different circumstances. But taken together, what do this moment mean?
Mr. PAGE: You know, I've long said that as African-Americans gain power, they also gain accountability, meaning that people are going to be looking at you more closely as you gain influence. And we're seeing that now.
I remember back in the '90s when there were a few scandals here and there involving black politicians, the big question was, are they getting a fair shake or are they being targeted? Are they trying to reduce black power, so to speak?
Now, people are saying, well, these folks are, you know, getting more influence and they're attracting more lobbyists and more favors here and there, but they also have more power so people are going to watch you more closely, so you better watch yourself.
NORRIS: I want to ask you first about this one and Congressman Rangel.
Mr. PAGE: Mm-hmm.
NORRIS: It's a touchy subject on Capitol Hill. And I want to ask you about this because there are a number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have faced ethical inquiries of one kind or another.
How does that affect the ability to grow the next crop of leaders when so many people have faced this kind of problem?
Mr. PAGE: Well, I think we have to, first of all, put this in perspective, of course, that these are a few black legislators, just as there are a few legislators overall in both parties that get in trouble.
NORRIS: Their ethical problems are certainly not unique to people of color.
Mr. PAGE: Not unique, exactly. And I think that the next generation really looks at this generation and says, well, obviously, we're going to be held to a high standard. In some ways, just like with any other potential politician, a lot of people are steering clear of politics altogether, saying that, you know, I'm not going to be scrutinized that closely in the corporate world.
But at the same time, as they say, if you don't have anything to hide, then, you know, come on forward. You're being welcomed.
And all that we're seeing here, I think at this point at least, is that when you're engaged in some suspicious circumstances like, say, owning several or being able to use several rent-controlled apartments, for example, in a fashion that is probably either not legal or at least unethical, you're going to be scrutinized regardless of what color you are.
NORRIS: How deep is the bench?
Mr. PAGE: The bench I think is quite deep, actually. It may be deeper than we know. I mean, I'll tell you, back in Illinois folks never would have said Barack Obama was going to be president
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PAGE: eight years later when he lost to Bobby Rush in that congressional race back in 2000, but look at him. Harold Ford isn't out of the game yet, I don't think. I thought that he's still got potential out there. And there's other folks coming up who haven't had the level of attention they have had.
So I think that the future of black political empowerment is good, very promising. The real question is what are they going to do with the power once they get it?
Mr. PAGE: Because it's not just a question of race now. It's a question of class and opportunities, helping those who've been left behind. And that's the real issue now.
NORRIS: Does the Barack Obama model, if I can call it that, create a playbook or a template for a new generation of politics? And when I ask the question, I'm thinking about Deval Patrick in Massachusetts.
Mr. PAGE: Right. Well, you know, Deval Patrick and Barack Obama have at least one guy in common: David Axelrod
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PAGE: who I've known since he was helping Harold Washington's campaign back in the '80s to be the first black mayor of Chicago. And David has worked with a number of campaigns of African-American candidates running for predominantly white constituencies.
I think what we see, first of all, is that we're not in a - post-racial politics doesn't mean post-racism. Racism is still out there. But you should campaign as someone who's transcending race while being constantly aware that racism is always out there. And people are going to play those race cards either in your favor or against you, and you've got to try to rise above that.
Other than that, you really have to say that politics is about accountability. And if you're running to a multiracial constituency, then you need to run as a candidate of all the people.
NORRIS: Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
Clarence, thanks for coming in.
Mr. PAGE: Thank you, Michele.
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