WASHINGTON – Rep. Cynthia McKinney loves a good fight. Now, for the first time since 1996, the Georgia Democrat might face one in her party's primary.
Recently retired Judge Denise Majette says McKinney's Fourth District, in middle class Atlanta with a population about 50 percent black, has suffered long enough from bad publicity, and hasn't grown as much as it could have in the years she has been in office.
"The kind of reckless statements she makes is costing us dollars and cents in the district," charged Majette, who is black and plans to run a strong primary against McKinney in August.
Many Americans previously unfamiliar with the outspoken representative have heard of or from her in the months following Sept. 11.
She first slammed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for returning a $10 million check to a Saudi prince who had linked the attacks to America's Mideast policy. McKinney wrote the prince a letter criticizing Giuliani and asking for the money back to give to poor black communities.
She made much bigger headlines more recently when she suggested the Bush administration may have had advance warning of the Sept. 11 attacks. McKinney, a member of the Armed Services and International Relations committees, also asked if several Washington-area investment firms tied to the administration are directly profiting from the attacks.
"What did this administration know and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered? What do they have to hide?" she questioned in an interview on KPFA94 FM, a California radio station.
Her statements drew immediate fire from all political corners.
Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., called her statements "loony." House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said such remarks "have no place in a country united behind a common goal and against a common enemy."
McKinney later clarified her remarks — sort of.
"I am not aware of any evidence showing that President Bush or members of his administration have personally profited from the attacks of 9/11," she said, before adding: "A complete investigation might reveal that to be the case."
While House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., did not agree with her statements, he said she "has a right to make them." And Gephardt spokesman Erik Smith believes the matter was blown out of proportion by Republicans.
When asked if the party was distancing itself from McKinney, Smith said: "We have 435 different people in Congress. Each one is unique and each one has her own point of view, and I think that is what makes this institution great."
McKinney, whose office did not return repeated phone calls for an interview, has long concentrated much of her energy on African American issues. She serves on the Congressional Black Caucus as well as the Progressive Caucus.
But she does not get on well with black conservatives. She was once quoted in USA Today as saying, "My impression of modern-day black Republicans is they have to pass a litmus test in which all black blood is extracted."
McKinney received 21 percent of her contributions in 1999-2000 from Arab-American and Middle Eastern/Muslim sources in the last election cycle, including money from officials of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and the American Muslim Council. Both have members who have been publicly tied to support for terrorist groups here and abroad.
CAIR officials said the contributions reflect McKinney's support for American-Muslim issues here in the U.S. Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, said her donor list might suggest where the congresswoman's own loyalties lie.
"If McKinney's standard of review is 'relationships,' then her 'relationships,' and the influence those relationships have on her actions — must also be investigated," he said, referring to her attacks on Bush.
Majette says her district is fed up with all of it. She believes she has broad support across party lines to make a change.
"I want to provide the kind of change people are looking for. People are fed up and tired of being embarrassed and having to be ashamed of the person who represents them," she said.
Ralph Gonzales, the executive director of the Georgia Republican Party, said there are "plenty of middle-class African Americans there in her district who do not like her hijinks," who will be looking for alternatives come November. Republican Catherine Davis has also entered the field.
But not all Democrats see McKinney as a political liability.
"She's straightforward and she says what's on her mind," said Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., who called her "a pleasure" to work with. "What makes America great is one's right to say what's on their mind."