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Georgia House Race May Be a First

Democrat Cynthia McKinney wants to empower fellow black voters in a poor district

By Kristine F. AndersonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / September 14, 1992



ATLANTA

SOME people call her a radical and activist. Others call her the champion of the people, and the heroine of the poor blacks.

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Whichever label is used, State Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D), the black congressional candidate from Georgia's newly created 11th District, is attracting much attention. If she wins the November race against Republican Woodrow Lovett, a farmer, she will become the first black congresswoman ever elected in Georgia. Huge, new district

Ms. McKinney is running in a district that stretches 250 miles and includes 22 counties. The district, born out of reapportionment efforts, is 40 percent white and 60 percent black. After almost two years of heated debate, the state legislature created the huge district to enhance the opportunity of electing another black congressman. US Rep. John Lewis (D), from the Fifth District, is currently the only black member of Georgia's congressional delegation.

Stretching through Georgia's black belt, the district includes counties having a high concentration of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, and infant mortality. The average annual income for a family of four is about $11,500. McKinney says: "Some people still don't have running water or paved roads."

In July's primary, McKinney led the field of five Democratics. In the August runoff, she beat out the lone white candidate, former Waynesboro Mayor George DeLoach, with 54 percent. But McKinney, a single mother, does not take her runoff victory for granted. "I'm still the outsider who has to fight the good old boy network," she says.

Though Georgia has not sent a woman to Congress in more than 35 years, two other Democratic women are also campaigning for congressional seats. Barbara Christmas, a school principal from southeast Georgia, is running in the First District. Veteran state legislator Cathey Steinberg from Atlanta is running in the Fourth District.

Observers say McKinney, an adjunct political science professor, has an excellent chance of winning. Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, campaigning for her, says: "She's strong on domestic and foreign policy. She'll become part of the emerging female leadership in Congress."

Though her funds are limited, she is visiting each of the counties in her district, and meeting with county commissioners and city council members, as well as district church congregations.

She has been endorsed by by the National Organization for Women, Georgia Women's Political Caucus, Congressman Lewis, the Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Jessie Jackson, and leaders of Atlanta's black business community.

The real backbone of her grass roots effort, though, is a group of volunteers, some of whom have been with her since she ran for state representative four years ago. She has had limited financial support from several political action committees and organized labor. She hopes to get Democratic Party support. Bread-and-butter issues

While some see McKinney as a maverick, her campaign focuses on "bread and butter" issues. Because of the abject poverty in her district, she focuses on employment and economic development, particularly the growth of small businesses owned by minorities and women, and education. She is also concerned about providing equitable representation of all Georgia citizens.

McKinney, daughter of longtime State Rep. Billy McKinney, one of the city's first black policeman, grew up with the civil rights movement. Born and raised in Atlanta, she remembers sitting on her father's shoulders as he marched along city streets. Years later, she served in the state General Assembly with him.

Speaking with the fervor of an early civil rights organizer, McKinney says: "The most important thing I can do is empower a long disenfranchised people. I want to see the blacks in my district walk the streets with dignity, pride and hope."