In Georgia, a Race Too Close to Call
By PHILIP SHENON, NY Times
ATLANTA, Aug. 18 -- No one would confuse the leafy suburban
streets of Georgia's Fourth Congressional District with a seaside
boulevard in Tel Aviv or with the dusty roads that crisscross the
But the issues of war and peace in the Middle East may be what decide
the primary on Tuesday between two African-American women battling for
the Democratic nomination for this district's seat in the House. Recent
polls suggest that the race between Representative Cynthia A. McKinney,
a five-term incumbent who has received substantial financial backing from
Arab-Americans, and Denise Majette, a former state judge supported by
pro-Israel groups, is too close to call.
"This is turning into a small proxy war -- a little, Middle East proxy
war," said Khalil E. Jahshan, executive vice president of the
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington.
The group's political action committee is urging its members to support
Ms. McKinney, who is being opposed by pro-Israel groups because of her
support for Arab causes. "One can raise all sorts of legitimate questions
about McKinney's position on this or that issue, but she has been articulate
on our concerns," Mr. Jahshan said.
Ms. McKinney has received campaign contributions from Arab-Americans
around the country, including several who have come under scrutiny by the
Federal Bureau of Investigation for possible terrorist links. Some of her
contributors turned up as defendants in a $1 trillion lawsuit filed last
week in Washington by families of Sept. 11 victims; the suit accuses them
of being "enablers of terrorism."
Ms. Majette has received donations from Jews from outside Georgia,
raising almost twice as much over all as Ms. McKinney, more than $1.1
million versus about $640,000 for the incumbent. The challenger has
accused Ms. McKinney of taking money from "people who have been named as
Ms. McKinney and her spokesmen, who did not return phone calls for
comment, have defended the contributions as legal, and have suggested
there is no need to return the money.
If Ms. McKinney loses, she will be the second House Democrat to be
defeated this year in a race in which Middle East politics, and the
influence of campaign contributions from both Arab-Americans and Jewish
Americans, have played a significant role. Representative Earl F. Hilliard,
an Alabama Democrat who has also supported Arab and Muslim concerns, was
ousted in a primary vote in June by Artur Davis, a candidate backed by
The races in Alabama and Georgia are seen as evidence of new strains
between African-Americans and Jewish Americans, who for decades were
seen as unshakable political allies, given their shared history of
discrimination. "Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of the tensions
between the black and Jewish communities," said Abraham H. Foxman,
national director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York, which is
traditionally aligned with Jewish and pro-Israel groups.
But, Mr. Foxman said, it made sense that Jewish Americans would want to
contribute to efforts to replace Ms. McKinney and Mr. Hilliard because
of the lawmakers' records on matters of interest to the Jewish community.
Ms. McKinney, a 47-year-old educator-turned-politician with a liberal
voting record and a confrontational style, is known in Congress for
statements that border on the outrageous.
After Sept. 11, she suggested that President Bush ignored warnings of
the attacks because a war on terrorism would be good for businesses
allied with the Bush family. Senator Zell Miller, a fellow Georgia
Democrat, described her accusations as "looney." Last fall, she
apologized to a Saudi prince whose $10 million donation of relief aid
to New York City was rejected by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani because of
the prince's assertion that American foreign policy was partly to blame
for the attacks.
Although her suburban Atlanta district is mostly black, Ms. McKinney has
a sizable Jewish constituency, and Jewish voters here are alarmed by her
support for Arab and Muslim causes. Their anxiety almost certainly grew
with the announcement that Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader
who has been accused of anti-Semitism, intended to campaign for Ms.
McKinney in Atlanta in the final days of the race.
In a recent appearance before the Islamic Foundation in Chicago, Ms.
McKinney pleaded for support. "It's just not about a Congressional
district," she said. "It's about the members of Congress who have the
courage to come to the Muslim community."
She and Mr. Hilliard were among 21 members of the House who opposed a
resolution in support of Israel's military response to Palestinian
Her list of contributors reflects her support for Arab causes. A sizable
number of the names on the contribution lists she has provided to the
Federal Election Commission are those of Arab-Americans from outside
Georgia, many of them respected lawyers, physicians and merchants.
Her opponents say they are concerned with the donations to Ms. McKinney
from several people who have come under investigation for financial ties
to terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda. Among her donors is
Abdurahman Alamoudi, the leader of a Muslim organization who has
expressed support for Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based terrorist group,
and Hamas, the violent Palestinian group; he has contributed the maximum
$2,000 to Ms. McKinney's campaign. Mr. Alamoudi was among the McKinney
donors who were named in the suit last week by the Sept. 11 families.
Some other McKinney donors are connected to Muslim charities that have
been accused of raising money for terrorist groups.
In recent weeks, campaign officials have been quoted as saying that the
donations in question would not be returned. "We don't racially profile
our contributors," Ms. McKinney said in a debate this month. "All of our
contributions are legal."
Ms. Majette, 47, a Brooklyn-born, Yale-educated lawyer, has tried to
distance herself from the perception that she is the candidate solely of
pro-Israel groups. Her campaign manager, Roland Washington, said in an
interview that issues involving the Middle East would not be Ms.
Majette's focus in Congress.
"Denise is pro-peace as it relates to the Middle East," Mr. Washington
said. "But she is much more concerned with the local issues that are
driving voters to look for an alternative to the current leadership.
The campaign's focus is on economic development, infrastructure, child
care, trying to reduce the cost of health care."
Her campaign has drawn financial support from other prominent Democrats,
including Senator Miller, and from other local celebrities, including
Henry Aaron, the former Atlanta Braves star.
(c) 2002 The New York Times
[Note - Congresswoman McKinney was defeated in the Democratic primary]