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Letson: They're not going to vote for the black guy

By Todd Franko (Contact)

Published September 19, 2008

At The Vindicator, we're accustomed to being charged with misquoting someone. Or that we got the words wrong. Or we mischaracterized statements.

More often than not, the accusation is something akin to buyer's remorse; a hangover of sorts caused by someone getting carried away and wishing for a take-back the morning after.

That seems to be the situation today with State Rep. Thomas Letson, D-Warren.

Earlier this week, Letson served as a Democratic wet towel on the eve of the John McCain-Sarah Palin visit. Standing at a press conference, he said people have 1,000 reasons to vote for Obama and one reason they won't: race.

On Tuesday, when the story hit print in The Vindy, he caught flack. During a phone conference to several media outlets Tuesday afternoon, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine called comments made by Letson and state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, “disturbing” and “offensive.”

On Wednesday, Letson was talking to the media again  — the Warren Tribune-Chronicle, this time — saying, in the most obtuse way, that The Vindy misquoted him. That story was in Warren's Thursday paper. Here's that article.

Well, we were perplexed by that Thursday. Even more so when we attempted to get Letson and Hagan to address the issue on the record with us. You can read about that exchange in Saturday's Vindicator.

We strive to be accurate. I get antsy when we miss a bar band performance date at Rosetta Stone for our Thursday entertainment guide. That's peanuts when compared to a story on Obama and race and Valley voters.

Reporter David Skolnick explained what happened in his words. His recall was pretty clear.

What helped the best was Letson's own words. You can see them for yourself:

1.) Go to wkbn.com.

2.) Click in the right-middle of the screen where you see the "Video on Demand" box (with the "27" and "Fox' logos).

3.) Click on the blue tab at the bottom labeled 'Extra."

4.) Click on a photo of Hagan and Letson standing together (It's next to an image of McCain).

And watch and listen to what Letson said. It's clear in his first 17 seconds. Then he rambles for 3 minutes before finishing. That's when WKBN reporter Gerry Ricciutti professionally takes Letson back to his opening 17 seconds and  asks Letson to reaffirm his opening remark.

"Are you suggesting," Ricciutti starts his question, "that the only reason that those people would say they're gonna vote for John McCain is race?"

"Am I suggesting that? No, I'm pretty sure I stated that," Letson replies.

He continued: "You have the ability to secure your nation on one hand, and the ability to maintain racism on the other hand."

Please go look at the video and judge for yourself what he really said. I think we characterized his feelings with 100 percent accuracy.

Then, after you watch the video, come back to this blog and comment here. But don't comment on Letson's flip-flopping or his morning-after headline remorse. Comment on what he actually said.

Loyal Democrats in the valley won't follow their voting tradition this fall due to Obama's race. What Letson said is truly being said in the Valley. He didn't just make it up on Monday afternoon when he got all frothy-mouthed over open microphones.

White male voters, Democrats especially, are struggling with Obama. Too often, sadly enough, because of race. It's the story everybody knows, but most are loathe to discuss.

It's not just in the valley. It's everywhere. Click here for a Boston Globe piece. Click here for a Christian Science Monitor piece. Here's another piece from today.

The issue comes up often when six white guys get together — sometimes it's a quiet, hushed chatter over coffee; it can often be a louder, more brave pronouncement when there's Budweiser in play.

I've been in both situations.

It's disheartening. I'm all for judging Obama on experience, foreign policy, etc. I can even live with people scrutinizing his church membership, if that is a concern for them. Too often, however, Obama's skin color is as much in play as much as any Obama measure.

While Letson does not wish to talk about, we'd like to.

We currently have a poll going in the paper. Click here. In the first six hours of the poll, half the respondents have said that someone they know has expressed concern about Obama's race.

The Vindy is going to talk more about it today, and in the days to come.

We'd like you to join us.

Post a comment here. Or email me directly at tfranko@vindy.com.

We'd also like Mr. Letson to rejoin the conversation.


1ytownoptimist(86 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

Todd you are so right. Its a shame that race is even an issue. I'd like to know the age and educational level of individuals that vote on race. I don't know about them but when I left this area to go to OSU, I quickly realized what a racist environment I was brought up in and that it wasn't acceptable or right. From college throughout my professional life, I worked on ridding myself of the mentality that I grew up around. The reality is that racism is ridiculous in this day and age. We forget in this area that our grandparents were victims of bias for having accents or looking different and its a shame that African Americans are treated in the same manner. I am shocked by the bigotry that still exists here. It is up to younger generations to point out to our grandparents and parents that racist speak is unacceptable and not the world we live in today. I did this when I was in college to my father and continue to point out to him today that he is incorrect (with all due respect). I refuse to allow my daughter to grow up in the same way that I was. People say this is a great place to raise a child but not at the cost of continuing these old school trains of thought. Just one area that Youngstown needs to be forward minded to move into the future . . .

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2DNRtheDNC(2 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

Has anybody ever considered that they don't want to vote for BO because he sounds a little bit too much like a hardcore socialist?

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3330treehugger(3 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

This shows that maybe the racism isn't only a Republican phenomenon, eh? If this racial crossover occurs, it will be by democrats. In my experience, I'm hearing it from older and/or blue collar democrats expressing their inability to vote for a black man. Did this doom the candidacies of Michael Steele in Maryland and Ken Blackwell in Ohio?

As race is an issue for some, there are legitimate reasons to reject Obama for President. Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. Like Bill, Barack is charming and loquacious, but unlike Bill, Barack represents a far left socialist policy shift in all walks of life. The Rev Wright controversy also defies credulity for many: Barack is supposed to be really smart and have great judgement, but claims he didn't know what his pastor of 20 years really believed. It is not racist to question that association and judgement. Ditto for his attempts to hide his close relationship with William Ayers, who is white. These radicals in his camp is troubling for many voters.

I would also suggest the potentially devastating effect of a mere 5%, or more, crossover by upset Hillary voters, especially in Michigan, Ohio and Florida, important states to be sure. 5% is only 1 in 20 voters and when combined with the white crossover vote mentioned by the Vindy could spell electoral college victory for McCain. Democrats need not worry since McCain, in my opinion, is 60% Democrat. He is a seat of the pants populist who will be easily swayed by the Main Stream Media. He loves to be loved.

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4Nonsocialist(710 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

The voters of the Mahoning Valley are too sophisticated and too tough to allow the local Democratic Party leadership to bully and intimidate them by playing the race card. We've all seen with our own eyes the results of our long-standing loyalty to the Democratic Party. They've left the Valley in shambles.

Mahoning Valley voters know Obama has no executive or military experience, and barely any Federal legislative experience. They know he has demonstrated poor judgement on major isues like the surge in Iraq and the Russian invasion of our ally, as well as on economic issues like proposing our debt-ridden Federal government give even more billions to the U.N. His poor judgment is apparent in all aspects of his life, like the selection of an anti-American and rascist church, as well as associations with domestic terrorists who have blown up Federal buildings. It is stunning to many that a candidate with so many negatives could get this far.

So to the local Democratic Party leadership, stop insulting us. We are not rascists. And BTW, your political futures are looking pretty dim. Maybe you should peruse the Vindy employment section.

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5skittles(7 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

There are many important issues to be addressed during this campaign and both candidates have very different views and solutions to them. For an elected official to boldly state that race is the deciding factor for those of the opposing party or those that have not decided is reckless and insulting. I don't know one person that wants to be labeled a racist. That is a pretty charged accusation directed at people they don't even know. The word racist carries alot of power and yet it is thrown around casually. The only thing that results from such ignorant comments is that Youngstown Ohio makes national news again showing the nation that our elected officials think we are racist.
Give your constituents a little credit and remember that we have a functioning brain, after all you are going to need our vote when you need re-elected.

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6long87(2 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

why are you bashing Letson for telling the truth? If you want further evidence rewind to the 2006 elections. The Republican's put an African-American up for Govenor. While the Democrat's in an election year where everything was going in their favor. An unpopular Republican Govenor knew deep in scandal. The Democrat's also had two African-American candidates on the State Wide ticket (Espy and Sykes) Democrat's sweep four out of five of the State offices by huge margins (60 to 40) Yet the two African-Amercian Democrat's lost by that same margin! How could that be if not for Racist Democrat's? I have heard National Democrat's from Rahn Emanuel to Govenor's Rendell and Strickland state this very same stuff. Large portions of Democrat's will never vote for an African-American regardless of his polictical affiliation! This may finally be the turning point for African-American's and our blindly pledging our support, money, and vote for Democrat's at a 90+ percentage. See when we support one party in those numbers we get what we get. One party that takes you for granted and the other that completely ignores you! I am an African-American and I also happen to be Republican. Obama is an amazing person who happens to be living the Dream that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about 45 years ago. However when I look at the content of his character he does not represent the basic tenets I and the Republican Party adhere to. Lower Taxes, Less Government, Rewarding one for his/her hard work, free markets, the list goes on and on. That is why this African-American will be casting his ballot for John McCain. In closing I would like to make this point. It has been Democrat's that have made race an issue in this election. It will be racist Democrat's that cost Obama this election. Republican's have rallied around their candidate and a lot of Republican's despise McCain. African-American's need to ask the question why haven't the Democrat's rallied around theirs? The answer is as plain on nose on your face. Maybe this will be the moment that Republican's finally make serious outreach to the African-American voters. Maybe African-Americans will relize that it is the Democratic Party that has failed us! If we make both parties really fight for our vote, no matter who wins we wins. Right now the Democrat's want your vote but don't you dare run for office because they won't vote for you! Martin Luther King Jr. would truely be proud of Senator Obama however if he were still alive on November 4th he would cast his ballot for John McCain. See Dr. King was a Republican!

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7hellsbells(116 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

Thank you for bringing this problem into the open. How can we resolve problems when so many just deny their existence?
When you tell people your child goes to a Youngstown City School, their response most often is: How many black kids are there now? Same thing at Boardman High School. Is this how people should be speaking to each other, especially during a time of crisis in our country?

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8Freedom(3 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine came out yesterday alleging more potentially "illegal election activities." It's too bad DeWine and his friends can't just tell the truth. They can only win by lying and scaring people. Where's the proof Kevin? If you can't prove it, shut your mouth!!!

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