As Senator Barack Obama secured the majority of available delegates as well as a victory in the North Carolina primary on Tuesday, Brooklyn political and religious leaders believe the issue of the Senator’s relationship with his pastor and his religion will continue to be scrutinized in upcoming elections.
“People were happy on how he responded, especially the brilliant speech he gave in Philly, after Rev. Wright’s sermon came public, and the more recent speech when he distanced himself further was helpful as well,” said Brooklyn Assemblymember and Reverend Karim Camara. “You are always going to have a political environment where you’re going to have a reason to totally annihilate your opponent and annihilation is not what we need right now.”
Obama won 56 percent of primary voters in North Carolina, compared with Senator Hillary Clinton’s 42 percent, though the candidates nearly split Indiana with Clinton winning the state by two points. Obama now has a total of 1,840 delegates compared with Clinton’s 1,684, according to calculations by the Associated Press.
“The fat lady has not sung yet but she is certainly tuning up her voice,” said Brooklyn Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries. “I think it is time for Senator Clinton to end her campaign and unify the Democratic Party behind Barack Obama in the general election. Senator Clinton has fought a valiant fight but it is almost a statistical impossibility to secure the nomination at this point.”
Exit polling indicated that about 50 percent of primary voters in both states believed that the Reverend Wright speeches were a significant factor in determining which candidate they cast their vote for. Earlier this month, Obama severed a 20-year relationship from Rev. Wright after several speeches the pastor gave criticizing Obama in reaction to sermons that many voters and pundits characterized as anti-American.
“Initially I was one of the people who was defending Reverend Wright,” Camara said. “I disagreed with the fact that he was racist and anti-American. Even if he has a matter of speaking in a strong tone, I don’t think you can say that he gives that speech every Sunday at Trinity Church. I think it’s ridiculous to say that he was giving this speech for twenty years. The climate we’re in, the sound bytes, the spin, added into it.”
Jeffries believes that Obama’s relationship with his pastor and his church has been more closely scrutinized than Clinton or McCain’s relationships with faith because of the Baptist tradition’s role in the fight for social justice and the intimate connections between the church and public service.
“It was painful for many of us to watch the very public spilt between Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama, however Reverend Wright’s recent public defense of himself gave Senator Obama no choice but to create a complete break,” Jeffries said.
Father James Kelly, an Obama supporter and pastor of St. Brigid’s Church in Bushwick (409 Linden Street) believed that voters would give Obama the benefit of the doubt regarding his relationship to his pastor.
“Just because you stayed in the church doesn’t mean that you agree with everything your pastor says,” Father Kelly said. “Some people leave the church because their pastor is too conservative or too liberal. That is not surprising.”