Fred Lucas | Staff Writer | Thursday, January 24, 2008
Clinton -- who is aggressively competing for the black vote with her chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) -- touted the endorsement of Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, a prominent black leader and pastor of one of the oldest black churches in America, the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem.
The $555-billion FY 2008 omnibus spending bill approved last month by Congress included 11 appropriations bills with 11,000 earmarks. Clinton teamed with senior New York Sen. Charles Schumer and New York Rep. Charles Rangel, both Democrats, to provide three earmarks for the Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC).
The ADC is a separate non-profit community development organization chaired by Butts that focuses on increasing quality housing, delivering social services, and boosting economic and educational opportunities in Harlem.
Clinton backed an $839,000 earmark to the development corporation's programs for at-risk youth; $446,500 for the organization to expand youth after-school programs; and $146,000 for the group's social service work.
Clinton accepted credit for the Abyssinian earmarks and other earmarks in a statement released in December, saying, "I am proud that these funds will help support critical investments in New York City -- from strengthening community programs for our children to supporting the city's colleges and universities to cleaning up our waterways."
An analysis by the government watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste found that of all the presidential candidates serving in Congress, Clinton had the most earmarks.
Clinton's Senate press secretary Philippe Reines said in a written statement that Clinton is "very proud" of the federal funding she secured for the state of New York, but the statement did not address any specific earmarks.
Neither Butts nor the development corporations responded to inquiries from Cybercast News Service this week for comment.
As he endorsed Clinton Sunday, Butts remarked he is "confident that Sen. Hillary Clinton is the candidate best suited to be the Democratic presidential nominee and the next president of the United States."
"In her current position as United States senator from New York, she has also been very supportive of the Abyssinian Baptist Church's development work in Harlem," Butts said. "Thus I have seen first-hand the wisdom, insight, and concern she brings in her approach to community development, education, and developmental opportunities for youth and economic revitalization, as well as tirelessly advocating for families, promoting health care reform and fighting global HIV/AIDS."
Butts has been at the center of a few controversies.
He is on the board of advisors for the controversial Khalil Gibran International Academy, an Arab culture school that opened last fall in Brooklyn. Many New York City residents feared the public school would teach Islamic values.
Butts reportedly told a gathering at the United Nations conference on "Islamophobia" in 2005 that, "whether Muslims like it or not, Muslims are labeled people of color in the racist U.S ... they won't label you by calling you a ni****, but they'll call you a terrorist."
In 1996, Butts told a South Carolina gathering that "the church is more responsible for racism than any other institution in America" and that "racism is built on a Christian foundation."
At that same South Carolina speech to the National Council of Churches, Butts said a statue of former President Theodore Roosevelt should be torn down.
"Right in New York City, outside the Museum of National History, there is a statue of Teddy Roosevelt riding a horse with a Native American clinging to his boot on one side and an African-American on the other," Butts told the group. "What we should do is rent two tow trucks, loop a steel cable over the statue and pull it down."
In at least one cause, he found agreement with the political right. In 1993 he blasted rap musicians for "vile, ugly, low, abusive, and rough music." In a public demonstration, he ran over rap music compact discs with a steamroller.
As of the most recent filing period, Butts has not contributed to any presidential candidate. However, in 2004, he donated $1,000 to Barack Obama's Illinois senate race.
As chairman of the board of the development corporation, Butts does not collect a salary from the Abyssinian Development Corporation. But the organization's president and CEO, Sheena Wright, earns more than $115,000 per year. Wright donated $2,000 to Democratic nominee John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, and $1,000 to Democratic Party organizations last year.
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