Dean's failure to hire minorities criticized
By Mike Glover
DES MOINES, Iowa --
Howard Dean conceded grudgingly Sunday night that he never named a black
or Latino to his cabinet during nearly 12 years as governor of Vermont.
"If you want to lecture people on race, you ought to have the background
and track record to do that," Al Sharpton snapped at the Democratic presidential
front-runner in an emotionally charged exchange in the final debate before next
week's kickoff Iowa caucuses.
"I will take a backseat to no one in a commitment to civil rights in
America," Dean said moments later, eager to have the last word.
Dean, leading in the polls in Iowa as well as nationwide, also drew criticism
from Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio for saying he could balance the budget
without cutting Pentagon spending. And Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri
questioned Dean closely about whether he could cut payroll taxes without
harming Social Security.
Dean said he could. "I think cutting the payroll tax is not a bad idea," he
said. "We will not touch Social Security."
The debate unfolded a little more than a week before Iowans begin the
selection of national convention delegates who will pick an opponent for
The two-hour debate was billed as the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential
Forum, designed to focus the contenders on issues of concern to minorities, and
Sharpton's aggressive questioning of Dean accomplished that.
"You keep talking about race," the former street activist chided Dean when
he had a turn to ask a question. He said that not one "black or brown held a
senior position, not one. . . . It seems as though you've discovered blacks and
browns in this campaign."
Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, who is black, as is Sharpton, defended
Dean. "Rev. Sharpton, the fact of the matter is we can always blow up a racial
debate and make people mad at each other."
Moments later, Dean returned to the subject, noting that he has the
endorsements of more members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the
Congressional Hispanic Caucus than any other presidential hopeful.
Recent polling showed Dean and Gephardt in a close race for the lead,
with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. John Edwards of North
Carolina trailing. The outcome will begin the winnowing process in the race for
the nomination. Dean hopes for a win to validate his claim as campaign
front-runner. Gephardt's aides say he must win. And Kerry and Edwards hope
for strong finishes to sustain their campaigns in New Hampshire.