William Anderson, president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Young Democrats, said he was "shocked" that so many politically and regionally diverse blacks came together for the Allegheny County African-American Political Conference on April 16. "They couldn't even believe that they stuck together," he said of the old guard, also in attendance at the convention-style event at the Homewood Coliseum, complete with delegates, rallying speeches, balloons and confetti. "Some of them didn't even remember why they were angry at each other," he said
The conference was sponsored by groups as diverse as the Mon Valley Peoples Action Committee and Pennsylvania Hip Hop Political Convention, as well as the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly, the Allegheny County Democratic Black Caucus and the 13th Ward Democratic Club -- both old- and new-school political posses. It was the first time all of the organizations came together to support candidates running for office in predominantly black districts.
"The idea is to have candidates come through a movement," said Richard Adams, co-convener of the Black Political Assembly, "as opposed to an individual that goes, 'I'm kind of bright, I think I want to run,' and then goes out on his own."
Hundreds of delegates from the sponsoring groups as well as neighborhood representatives heard from black and white candidates running in the May 17 primary, including those for City Council District 6 (which encompasses the Hill District), mayor and Wilkinsburg borough administration. Black candidates who had fallen out politically with each other were forced into close proximity; state Rep. Jake Wheatley sat within inches of County Councilor Bill Robinson, whom he had bested for office in 2002.
"We all worked together in a positive way for this," said Khari Mosley, chair of the Hip Hop Political Convention and field manager for mayoral candidate Bill Peduto, who was in attendance along with rival Bob O'Connor. "There was ... a real intimacy between the candidates and the audience, unlike other forums where there are usually barriers."
The Coalition's Anderson agreed -- although he said he plans to challenge state Rep. Joseph Preston (who did not attend the conference) when he comes up for re-election.
"The only way we're going to overcome and take our rightful places in this town," Anderson concluded, "is if we all work together."