McKinney Seeks Return to Washington

Two years after losing a bitter Democratic primary race for her House seat in Georgia’s 4th Congressional District, former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (search) is using recent developments in Iraq and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror investigation to launch a comeback to Washington.

“Two years ago I asked, ‘What did the Bush Administration know and when did it know it, about the events of September the 11th?’” McKinney said in a March 27 release announcing a bid for her old seat.

“Today, the Bush administration continues its refusal to tell the American people how it was that all fail-safe mechanisms and standard operating procedures failed to operate for the four separate hijackings that took place that single day.”

The criticism is hardly out of step for McKinney, the former five-term representative from the heavily black, very liberal Democratic district located mostly in DeKalb County. After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the former educator questioned Bush's foresight into the attacks and suggested that Bush and some of his administration's officials stood to profit from the fallout of the attacks and the subsequent war on terror.

Political watchers warn that McKinney's return may continue to provoke the same opposition from Jewish groups who were galvanized to defeat her in the 2002 Democratic primary. At the same time, she may not yield the same support from old colleagues, particularly members of the Congressional Black Caucus (search).

“Some of that off-the-wall stuff may not play too well this time,” said Bill Shipp, Georgia political analyst and editor of “Bill Shipp’s Georgia.”

“She’s going to have difficulty in regaining her prominence,” he said.

But Ronald Walters, head of the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland and adviser to the CBC, said McKinney has been exonerated by recent events, including testimony to the Sept. 11 commission by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, who casts a harsh light on pre-Sept. 11 Bush policy.

“This has got to wash off on her in a positive way. On balance, both the war on terror and build-up in Iraq, and the continuing problems there, plus the president’s poll numbers with Americans have started to go south. This has largely vindicated her,” he said.

McKinney, who did not return repeated calls for an interview for this article, earned her reputation as a provocateur over several years in the House. Some of her post-Sept. 11 remarks not only cast suspicion on the president, but also earned scorn from Jewish groups, many of whom contributed to the campaign of primary opponent and current U.S. House Rep. Denise Majette.

McKinney alienated Jews by making what they allege were anti-Semitic remarks, taking donations from Arab organizations and showing support for Palestinians during a time of heightened homicide bombings by Palestinian terrorists in Israel. Perhaps the most high-profile incident, shortly after hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center, was McKinney's verbal slap at former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (search), who returned a $10 million donation for the city to a Saudi prince who had suggested that America's Mideast policy was to blame for the tragedy.

McKinney wrote the prince a letter criticizing Giuliani and asking for the money back to give to poor black communities.

One member of a Democratic Jewish group, who asked not to be named, doubts McKinney will be able to repair her relationship with the Jewish community despite her latest attempts to reach out to more liberal, anti-war Jewish organizations.

“There is essentially nothing she could do to rehabilitate herself to the Jewish community,” the source said.

While McKinney hopes to regain the 4th Congressional District seat this year, she is still at odds with some voters in the district. Having lost the 2002 Democratic primary by about 20,000 votes, McKinney accused Majette, a black former judge, of encouraging Republicans to cross party lines and vote for her.

On her election Web site, McKinney claims that an estimated 47,000 crossover votes contributed to Majette’s victory. But a survey by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the race found only 3,000 identifiable Republicans voted for Majette. However, an overwhelming 83 percent of black voters in the district voted for McKinney that year.

McKinney's accusations prompted a lawsuit shortly after the election by five black voters from DeKalb County who claim they were disenfranchised by the crossover vote. That lawsuit is still pending in the courts.

McKinney is counting on the black vote in the July 20 primary, when she faces a growing slate of Democrats vying for the seat that is being vacated by Majette. The representative surprised everyone by announcing late last month that she will be running to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Zell Miller (search) in Georgia.

McKinney faces at least two other women in the primary whom observers describe as attractive candidates to Democratic district voters. Cathy Woolard, who is white, openly gay and president of the Atlanta City Council, and Nadine Thomas, a popular black state senator, are also vying for the slot. The winner will face Republican Raymond Davis, who is also black.

Since the district is overwhelmingly Democrat, the winner of the entire race will likely be decided in the primary. But analysts say that McKinney is not a shoo-in for the nomination.

“I think [McKinney] will have a particularly stern challenge in trying to get back her seat,” said Alvin Williams, president of the conservative Black America’s Political Action Committee (search). “The people of the 4th Congressional District have a long memory of things she said when she was a member of Congress. I’m not so sure the Democratic establishment will fall in line with her.”

“Whether McKinney was right, or whether she was wrong, we’re tired of having someone in D.C. who is not focused on their district,” said Levi Price, Thomas’ campaign manager. “Her constantly being the center of controversy detracts from her ability to effectively represent the district.”

So far, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are holding their views close to the vest, opting to withhold comment and any endorsement for their old colleague for now. The same goes for her fellow black congressmen in the Georgia delegation.

But former CBC chair Eddie Bernice Johnson did give a quick thought on McKinney’s bid. “I have not yet found a reason not to support her,” she said.