April 26, 2007 — Vol. 42, No. 37
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Obama addresses question of experience in NYC

Beth Fouhy

NEW YORK — Wooing black voters while tackling questions about his experience, Democrat Barack Obama said Saturday that his years as a community organizer and accomplishments in the Illinois state Senate have prepared him well for the presidency.

Addressing the National Action Network (NAN), a civil rights group founded by Rev. Al Sharpton, Obama touted his successes as an Illinois lawmaker in providing health insurance to children and reducing the price of prescription drugs for senior citizens.

He also told of passing legislation to monitor racial profiling and to require that police interrogations of suspects in capital cases be videotaped.

“I haven’t just talked about these things, I’ve actually done them,” he said, adding that he’d worked well with the Republicans who controlled the state Senate for most of his tenure there.

He met later in the day with leaders of the Iowa Citizen Action Network, a liberal group of community organizers, and touted his own experience as a community organizer.

“I can relate,” said Obama as he opened a two-day visit to Iowa. “I, too, was a community organizer. Community organizers generally look at the world a little bit differently.”

Obama’s first job was working for a coalition of churches on Chicago’s south side, seeking to help rescue a troubled neighborhood.

“It was that education that was seared into my brain,” Obama said. “It was the best education I ever had, better than anything I got at Harvard Law School.”

With just over two years in the U.S. Senate, Obama has faced questions over whether he has sufficient experience to be president.

On the campaign trail, front-running New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton stresses her long career in public life and often warns voters that the next president will need to “hit the ground running.”

Sharpton, who ran for the Democratic nomination in 2004, has also openly questioned Obama’s credentials for the job.

Obama, running to be the first black president, acknowledged those concerns. He also assured the largely black audience he did not believe he was automatically entitled to their support.

“I’ve said to Rev. Sharpton and I’ll say it today, if there is somebody — I don’t care whether they are white or black or they are male or female — if there is somebody who has been more on the forefront on behalf of the issues you care about and has more concrete accomplishments on behalf of the things you’re concerned about, I’m happy to see you endorse them. But I am absolutely confident you will not find that,” he said.

With black voters a key part of the Democratic party base, the four-day NAN convention has attracted nearly all the 2008 Democratic contenders, as well as former President Bill Clinton and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd was expected to speak, but scheduling problems forced him to cancel.

A spokeswoman said Sharpton was not expected to endorse a candidate soon.

Hillary Clinton, who spoke Friday, won several standing ovations from the audience.

Obama, who also addressed an enthusiastic, overflow crowd, tailored his remarks to the urban issues Sharpton has championed.

He spoke of the need for fathers to step up to their responsibilities and the importance of helping ex-convicts escape an “economic death sentence” by securing jobs for them when they leave prison.

While he stumbled occasionally — calling Sharpton’s organization the “Urban Action Network” several times before the audience corrected him — he also drew some unexpected laughs.

Early in Obama’s speech, he stopped briefly as a cell phone on the podium began to buzz loudly.

“There’s something humming down here. Is that Hillary calling?” Obama asked, to an explosion of laughter and cheers.

Associated Press Writer Mike Glover contributed to this report from Iowa.

(Associated Press)

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., laughs with Rev. Al Sharpton during a speech to an audience at the 9th annual National Action Network convention on Saturday, April 21 in New York. Sharpton, fresh off the fight over Don Imus’ derogatory remarks, is attracting all the party’s major candidates this week for his annual National Action Network convention. (AP photo/Frank Franklin II)

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