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Gov. Calls on Black Churches

Aides urge ministers to apply for money under Schwarzenegger's Prop. 49. The approach may lure voters, but some pastors are skeptical.

October 07, 2006|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is using the same after-school aid program that was a springboard for his political career to boost his reelection chances, schooling black churches in how to secure millions of dollars in state funds.

Hoping to peel off black support from state Treasurer Phil Angelides, the Democratic candidate for governor, Schwarzenegger is aggressively courting black clergy -- partly through the lure of competitive state grants that are to be split among schools, nonprofits and faith-based institutions.

Money is available this year for the first time under Proposition 49, in the amount of about $500 million. Schwarzenegger promoted that initiative in 2002, laying the groundwork for his entry into the recall campaign the next year.

In recent months, the governor's staff has been approaching black churches to help them apply for some of the funds. A Schwarzenegger aide even enlisted one appointee to a state board to give advice to black clergymen on how to submit successful applications.

Some of the churches the governor is courting need money for tutoring, music and extracurricular programs. The Proposition 49 funds will be dispensed by the California Department of Education, run by the superintendent of public instruction, Democrat Jack O'Connell. None of the funds have as yet been given out.

"It sounds like it's walking right up to the line of buying endorsements with public money," said Ned Wigglesworth, policy advocate for California Common Cause. "It sounds like Gov. Schwarzenegger is trying to smooth the way for approval.

"When Arnold Schwarzenegger went to the voters in 2002 and asked them to vote for Prop. 49 after-school funds," Wigglesworth said, "voters had no idea these funds might later be used to facilitate Schwarzenegger's reelection candidacy in 2006. What you have is a public figure using the ballot measure process to create a pot of public money that they then use to pursue their own political agenda."

It is unusual for a Republican governor to spend time wooing African Americans, who traditionally are rock-solid supporters of Democrats. Schwarzenegger has gone to great lengths to do so, appearing at a black rodeo and meeting with publishers of African American newspapers.

Separate from the clergy, Schwarzenegger has sought to reach African American voters by advertising in black-owned publications. Campaign finance reports filed Thursday for the quarter ending Sept. 30 show the governor spent at least $46,000 on such ads.

Not everyone approves. "Faith-based entities are certainly not for sale," said the Rev. Harold R. Mayberry, senior pastor at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Oakland.

Last month, Margaret Fortune, an African American aide to the governor who took a leave of absence in August to join his campaign, appeared with Schwarzenegger at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, telling the congregation she was helping a group of black churches apply for state grant money.

Fortune is the Schwarzenegger campaign's chief liaison to the black community. One of her roles before she left government was to alert black churches that they might qualify for Proposition 49 money, according to campaign officials.

In their visit to Allen Temple, Schwarzenegger and Fortune got a warm reception from the pastor, the Rev. J. Alfred Smith.

"We've been working with sister Margaret and with the governor ... for the funding that's available to have community outreach programs," Smith told hundreds of congregants.

Smith invited Fortune to speak, describing her as a "great Christian woman."

In a reference to the black churches that are applying for funding, Fortune said: "I have worked on [Schwarzenegger's] behalf to help coalesce this group which will apply for funding to be able to do the wonderful programs like you have."

Schwarzenegger and Fortune met privately last month with about two dozen black clergy at a restaurant in Oakland, where the discussion also turned to the after-school funds available.

"He has sought to make certain through his office that any viable programs that meet his criteria would be granted funding, if it were available, for after-school programs," said the Rev. Claybon Lea Jr., pastor of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Fairfield, who attended the meeting.

And on Monday, the governor talked to pastors at a restaurant in Los Angeles about the fate of Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, pledging later to do "everything possible" to keep the troubled facility open.

Polls show the outreach is paying off. Although 9% of African Americans are registered Republicans, Schwarzenegger is supported by 20% of likely black voters, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.

Some black clergy who are backing Angelides cast the governor's efforts as self-serving. Why is Schwarzenegger's outreach coming now, with the election approaching, they ask.

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