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At Lewis funeral, Obama calls for renewing Voting Rights Act

ATLANTA — Former President Barack Obama used Rep. John Lewis’ funeral on Thursday to issue a stark warning that the voting rights and equal opportunity the late civil rights icon championed are threatened heading into the 2020 election.

Speaking from the pulpit of the church that Martin Luther King Jr. once led, Obama did not mention President Donald Trump. But the first Black president drew unmistakable contrasts with his successor, and he implicitly lambasted how Trump has handled voting procedures and ongoing civil unrest amid a national reckoning over systemic racism.

Obama called on Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act, which Trump and Republican congressional leaders have left unchanged since the Supreme Court diminished the landmark law in 2012.

“You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for,” Obama said, arguing that the bipartisan praise for the Georgia congressman since his death isn’t enough.

Obama endorsed ending the Senate filibuster if that is what’s needed to pass an overhauled voting law. He called the procedural hurdle that effectively requires 60 votes to pass major legislation a “Jim Crow relic,” referring to the segregation era.

The Democratic-led House has adopted a sweeping rewrite of the Voting Rights Act. Democrats want to name the new version after Lewis. It faces opposition in the Republican-led Senate and likely couldn’t get 60 votes even if Democrats reclaim a narrow majority after the November elections.

Obama noted that the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its renewals drew Republican and Democratic votes in Congress and were signed by presidents from both parties. Obama singled out former President George W. Bush, a Republican, who also spoke Thursday at Ebenezer Baptist Church near downtown Atlanta.

Still, Obama said, “There are those in power doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws ... even undermining the Postal Service in an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots.”

Hours before Lewis’ funeral, Trump suggested delaying the November election, something he doesn’t have the authority to do. Trump has falsely claimed that a surge of mail ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic will threaten the election’s legitimacy. Trump has opposed moves in Congress to help the financially struggling U.S. Postal Service handle the sharp uptick in mail voting.

Obama compared current national circumstances to the earlier civil rights era when Lewis helped lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and became an understudy to King.

“Bull Connor may be gone, but today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans,” Obama said, alluding to the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer. “George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.”

Connor was the Birmingham, Alabama, police commissioner who ordered the use of police dogs and fire hoses against civil rights demonstrators. Wallace, the four-term governor of Lewis’ native Alabama, built his political career on a defense of segregation and overt appeals to white grievances, and it was his state highway patrol who beat Lewis and others as they marched for voting rights in 1965.

Trump, like Wallace in his multiple presidential bids, is campaigning as a “law and order” figure. The president frames protesters who have gathered across the country since Floyd’s killing as anarchists who threaten the nation’s stability, especially in suburbs, and he’s dispatched federal authorities to some cities over the objections of local authorities.

Lewis, who died July 17 at the age of 80, was one of the original Freedom Riders, activists who challenged segregation on commercial bus lines in the Deep South during the early 1960s. He was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Bloody Sunday and the voting rights marches occurred two years later, months before President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act.

Obama awarded Lewis the Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Trump was the only living president who played no official role in a week of public remembrances for Lewis. Besides Obama and Bush, former President Bill Clinton spoke Thursday at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Former President Jimmy Carter, who is 95, sent a statement read by the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Lewis had called Trump an illegitimate president ahead of his 2017 inauguration and chided him for stoking racial divisions. Trump answered by calling Lewis “all talk, talk, talk (and) no action” and describing his Atlanta congressional district as “crime infested.”

Obama exalted Lewis as a “founding father” of a “better America.”

“Someday, when we do finish that long journey towards freedom, when we do form a more prefect union – whether it’s years from now or decades or even if it takes another two centuries,” he said, “John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.”

Tumar Alexander to become interim city director

An African-American man is poised to take up the highest unelected position in Philadelphia.

Mayor Jim Kenney is expected to appoint Tumar Alexander, 45, as interim city managing director to replace Brian Abernathy when Abernathy leaves his post on Sept. 4, Kenney spokeswoman Deana Gamble confirmed today in an email.

Kenney said in an email that Alexander, currently the first deputy managing director, is well-positioned to transition into the acting managing director’s role, adding, “he is certainly in consideration for the permanent appointment.”

“He is a lifelong Philadelphian with deep community roots; a hard worker; and is well-respected among his colleagues and our many partners,” Kenney said.

The administration continues to review the managing director’s office as it seeks to restructure it.

During the past two decades, Alexander has held roles in three mayoral administrations, working on policy and operations.

As an African-American man, Alexander said, his “lived experiences bring a different voice and a different perspective to the table.”

Describing himself as “more of a behind-the-scenes person,” Alexander said his management style was based on “leading by example.”

“I’m not itching for attention,” he said. ‘“I just like to get the job done and support the mayor, his vision, his programs. … I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and get involved.”

Yet Alexander will take over a high-profile managing director position that oversees a series of departments, including the police department, and crises affecting the city — the novel coronavirus pandemic, demonstrations around police brutality and racism, gun violence, homelessness, and the opioid epidemic, to name a few.

The managing director plays a major role in developing and implementing Kenney’s policy initiatives, monitors performance and more.

Alexander said he shared the mayor’s vision for the city. When he takes up the role, Alexander said, he will lean on his long experience in city government, the administration’s current leadership team, and his ability to channel voices from the community, like the Philadelphia Black Clergy and Vicinity.

Alexander rose to become former Mayor Michael Nutter’s deputy chief of staff and worked in former Mayor John Street’s administration, where he worked on Street’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, among other things.

“For me, I just like doing the work,” Alexander said. “But where there’s times I need to step up and lead, step up and be present, I’m going to be present; I’m going to lead.”

Alexander said his response to the new high-profile role is “to be determined,” but added, “I’m not afraid of the spotlight.”

A North Philadelphia native, Alexander grew up in the Richard Allen Homes and attended the now defunct William Penn High School before he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from Penn State University.

Abernathy has served as managing director since January 2019. When Kenney took office in 2016, he appointed Abernathy first deputy to former Managing Director Michael Diberardinas, who resigned in 2018.

He announced his resignation earlier this month, in the midst of intense criticism for his handling of the protests over the police killing of George Floyd in recent months. Activists have criticized the police department for its use of excessive physical force, rubber bullets and tear gas against peaceful protesters.

Abernathy had called for an African-American woman to take over his post.

Kenney has come under scrutiny over the lack of diversity in his inner cabinet. His 15-member cabinet includes three African Americans, 11 whites and one Latina.

Gamble admitted that Kenney did not believe the diversity on his cabinet was sufficient nor does it adequately represent the diversity of our city.

“Improving diversity among the entire City workforce, especially leadership positions, remains a top priority of the administration,” Gamble said.

Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain dies at 74

ATLANTA — Herman Cain, former Republican presidential candidate and former CEO of a major pizza chain who went on to become an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, has died of complications from the coronavirus. He was 74.

A post on Cain’s Twitter account Thursday announced the death. Cain had been ill with the virus for several weeks. It’s not clear when or where he was infected, but he was hospitalized less than two weeks after attending Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June. Cain had been co-chair of Black Voices for Trump.

“We knew when he was first hospitalized with COVID-19 that this was going to be a rough fight,” read an article posted on the Twitter account.

In a condolence tweet Thursday, Trump described Cain as “a Powerful Voice of Freedom and all that is good.”

“Herman had an incredible career and was adored by everyone that ever met him, especially me,” Trump wrote. “He was a very special man, an American Patriot, and great friend.”

Cain, who had hoped to become the first Black politician to win the GOP nomination, was initially considered a long-shot candidate. His bid was propelled forward in September 2011 when he won a straw poll vote in Florida, instantly becoming an alternative candidate for Republican voters concerned that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was not conservative enough.

But Cain struggled to respond to accusations that he had sexually harassed several women and — in a video that went viral on the internet — rambled uncomfortably when asked whether he supported or opposed President Barack Obama’s policies in Libya. There were also gaffes on abortion and torture that led Cain’s critics to question whether he was ready for the White House.

Just as Cain started surging in the polls, Politico reported that the National Restaurant Association paid settlements to two former employees who claimed Cain sexually harassed them while he was CEO and president of the lobbying group from 1996 to 1999. Another woman, Sharon Bialek, said that Cain, an acquaintance, groped her in a car in July 1997 after they’d had dinner in Washington. Bialek, who was then unemployed, said she had contacted Cain seeking job advice.

Cain said he could not remember Bialek and denied sexually harassing anyone, but polls conducted in the weeks afterward showed his popularity slipping considerably.

Cain honed his speaking skills in the corporate world, then hosted a radio talk show in Atlanta that introduced his political views and up-by-the-bootstraps life story to many tea party supporters and other conservatives.

He first ventured into national politics in 1994 when he publicly challenged President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, on his proposal to force employers to buy health insurance for their employees. “For many, many businesses like mine, the cost of your plan is simply a cost that will cause us to eliminate jobs,” Cain told Clinton. “What will I tell those people whose jobs I will have to eliminate?”

Afterward, the restaurant industry used Cain as a spokesman as it campaigned against Clinton’s plan, which ultimately failed.

Cain served as a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City from 1992 to 1996. After moving back to his native Georgia, he ran for U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2004. He lost to Rep. Johnny Isakson in the primary.

Less than two years later, Cain was diagnosed with late-stage cancer in his colon that had spread to his liver. He recovered and later credited God with persuading him to run for president after Obama, a Democrat, took office in early 2009.

“That’s when I prayed and prayed and prayed,” Cain told an audience of young Republicans in Atlanta. “And when I finally realized that it was God saying that this is what I needed to do, I was like Moses. ‘You’ve got the wrong man, Lord. Are you sure?’”

Cain projected a self-confident image that at times bordered on arrogance. He referred to himself in the third person, and his motivations speaking company was named T.H.E. New Voice Inc. The acronym stood for The Hermanator Experience.

Cain’s run for the presidency was unlikely considering his origins. Born in the segregated South, his father worked three jobs as a janitor, barber and chauffeur, while his mother was a servant. He graduated from Morehouse College, a historically Black college for men in Atlanta, received a master’s degree from Purdue University and worked as a civilian mathematician in the U.S. Navy.

While it was a good job, Cain said his ambitions were in the corporate world. He wanted to be president of “something ... somewhere,” he later wrote.

He worked first for Coca-Cola, became a vice president with Pillsbury, then was appointed to run its struggling Burger King unit in the Philadelphia area. His success prompted Pillsbury officials to ask Cain to take over its floundering Godfather’s Pizza chain. Cain said he returned the franchise to profitability.

The centerpiece of Cain’s presidential campaign was his 9-9-9 plan, which would have replaced the current tax code with a 9% tax on personal and corporate income and a 9% national sales tax. Cain said the plan’s simplicity would stimulate the economy by giving investors certainty.

“If 10% is good enough for God, 9% ought to be good enough for the federal government,” he told crowds.

Numerous Republican politicians, party activists and conservative political commentators mourned Cain’s death on social media Thursday.

Romney tweeted, “Saddened that Herman Cain—a formidable champion of business, politics and policy—has lost his battle with Covid. St. Peter will soon hear ‘999!’ Keep up the fight, my friend.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted that Cain was “a fierce advocate for conservative principles across the board,” while Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, referring to Cain as one of his closest friends, remarked that “Herman ... lived the American dream and aspired to share his success with others.”

Cain is survived by his wife, Gloria Etchison, their children and grandchildren.

Students talk on the campus of Delaware State University.

This image provided by @mpozitolbertphotography shows Malik B in studio. The rapper and founding member of The Roots, has died. He was 47. The group announced the death of the Philadelphia-based emcee in a social media post Wednesday. The cause of death has not been released. Malik B, whose real name is Malik Abdul Basit, was a major contributor to the group, which includes Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter. He appeared on four albums before departing the group in 1999. In the following year, the Roots won their first Grammy. (@mpozitolbertphotography via AP)

Trump floats idea of election delay, a virtual impossibility

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, lagging in the polls and grappling with an economic collapse and public health crisis, on Thursday floated the startling idea of delaying the Nov. 3 presidential election. The notion drew immediate pushback from Democrats and Republicans alike in a nation that has held itself up as a beacon to the world for its history of peaceful transfer of power.

Trump suggested the delay as he pushed unsubstantiated allegations that increased mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic would result in fraud. But shifting Election Day is virtually impossible and the very idea represented another bracing attempt by Trump to undermine confidence in the American political system.

The date of the presidential election — the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in every fourth year — is enshrined in federal law and would require an act of Congress to change.

Top Republicans in Congress quickly rebuffed Trump’s suggestion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the election date is set in stone and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said the election “should go forward” as planned. Regardless, the Constitution makes no provisions for a delay in the end of Trump’s term — noon on Jan. 20, 2021.

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

In fact, only five states conduct elections entirely by mail, although more states expect to rely more heavily on mail-in ballots in November because of the virus outbreak. California has announced plans to send ballots to all registered voters for the fall election, but will also have in-person voting options available.

Trump’s tweet came just minutes after the government reported that the U.S. economy shrank at a dizzying 32.9% annual rate in the April-June quarter, by far the worst quarterly plunge ever, as the coronavirus outbreak shut down businesses, threw tens of millions out of work and sent unemployment surging to 14.7%.

With just over three months until Election Day, Trump trails in the polls nationally and across battleground states, and some surveys even suggest traditionally Republican-leaning states could be in play. While Trump has come back before after trailing consistently in the polls throughout 2016, the survey data has raised the possibility that he could face a landslide loss if he doesn’t turn things around.

Trump has increasingly sought to cast doubt on November’s election and the expected pandemic-induced surge in mail-in and absentee voting. He has called remote voting options the “biggest risk” to his reelection. His campaign and the Republican Party have sued to combat the practice, which was once a significant advantage for the GOP.

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting and the states that use it exclusively say they have necessary safeguards in place to ensure that a hostile foreign actor doesn’t disrupt the vote. Election security experts say that all forms of voter fraud are rare, including absentee balloting.

Most states are still finalizing their plans for November. A small number of states sent ballots to voters during the primaries, but most states are not expected to do so in November. Instead, voters will have to request an absentee ballot if they want to vote at home.

Voters and public health officials have expressed concerns about the potential dangers for spreading the virus during in-person voting, and states have reported difficulty filling poll worker positions given the pandemic.

Trump’s stated concern for poll safety defies his otherwise aggressive push to “reopen” the nation from partial shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the virus, even as rising confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths have pushed the U.S. to the top of the list for the world outbreak.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said the election will take place as planned, “be legitimate and...people should have confidence in it.”

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi replied to Trump’s tweet by tweeting a quote from the Constitution assigning Congress the power to set the timing of elections.

One Republican governor, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, also quickly shot down Trump’s idea: “Make no mistake: the election will happen in New Hampshire on November 3rd. End of story. Our voting system in NH is secure, safe, and reliable. We have done it right 100% of the time for 100 years – this year will be no different.”

Hogan Gidley, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, pointed to the delays in counting votes in New York’s primary. “The President is just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting. They are using coronavirus as their means to try to institute universal mail-in voting, which means sending every registered voter a ballot whether they asked for one or not. “

Trump refused in an interview just weeks ago with Fox News to commit to accept the results of the upcoming White House election, recalling a similar threat he made weeks before the 2016 vote.

“I have to see. Look ... I have to see,” Trump told moderator Chris Wallace during a wide-ranging interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “No, I’m not going to just say ‘yes.’ I’m not going to say ‘no,’ and I didn’t last time, either.” Last month, he also said in Arizona, “This will be, in my opinion, the most corrupt election in the history of our country.”

Trump and many members of his administration have previously availed themselves of absentee voting, but Trump has sought to differentiate that from a growing push by states to mail all registered voters either ballots or absentee request forms.

“He has absolutely no power to do this,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s Law School. “This is just sowing chaos.”

Democrats have pushed to include billions of dollars in the next coronavirus relief bill to fund election security and accessibility improvements for this year’s vote, but Trump and Republicans have so far resisted those efforts.

Just months ago, in April, Trump had ruled out the prospect of trying to change the election after Democratic rival Joe Biden predicted Trump would do so. “I never even thought of changing the date of the election,” he said. “Why would I do that? November 3rd. It’s a good number. No, I look forward to that election.”

“I’m not thinking about it at all,” he added. “Not at all.”

And in March, Trump opposed moves by several states to delay their presidential primaries because of the coronavirus.