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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.


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