Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Was candidate excluded because of her race?

Candidate Liz Carter shakes hands with Newsmakers Live moderator Maynard Eaton. Photo Credit: Kathleen Green/Special.
Candidate Liz Carter shakes hands with Newsmakers Live moderator Maynard Eaton. Photo Credit: Kathleen Green/Special.

In the complex world of Atlanta-area racial politics, this one was particularly bizarre and begged to be checked out by the PolitiFact Georgia team.

Fourth Congressional District candidate Liz Carter, a Republican, said she was excluded from a June 2 candidate forum because of her race. Carter, who describes herself as an entrepreneur, is white.

But race had nothing to do with the snub, the organizers said. The group, Newsmakers Live, said it initially omitted Carter because it didn't know who she was.

Carter came to the forum anyway, and with several television cameras there, the stage was set for a showdown.

We wanted to fact-check Carter's claim that she was excluded because of her race. In this case, it was a classic "he said, she said." So we decided to present our findings without a Truth-O-Meter.

Newsmakers Live began sending e-mails a few weeks ago promoting the forum with the smiling faces of the incumbent, Democratic U.S. Rep.Hank Johnson, and three other candidates: former DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, DeKalb County Commissioner Connie Stokes and candidate Cory Ruth. All four of them are black. Ruth is the only Republican promoted in the e-mails.

The 4th Congressional District is largely located in DeKalb County, but it includes portions of Gwinnett and Rockdale counties. The majority of its residents are black. Voters there have elected Democrats to represent the district in Congress since its last major redistricting in the mid 1990s. Its past representatives include political firebrand Cynthia McKinney, who was accused of striking a Capitol police officer when he tried to check her identification. She claimed "racial profiling" by police.

Newsmakers Live is a group that invites elected officials and those aspiring to public office to discuss issues at trendy bars and restaurants with overwhelmingly black audiences. It also publishes articles on its Web site. Last year, Newsmakers Live held several candidate forums in the Atlanta mayor's race.

On May 21, Carter said she reached out to Newsmakers Live publisher Jim Welcome to participate in the forum. Carter said she got the runaround until June 1, when she talked to Newsmakers Live moderator Maynard Eaton.

"He told me I could not participate," Carter said. "He said it was a black candidate forum."

Carter posted messages on Facebook and Twitter saying she was informed it was "Black Candidates Only Tonight." On June 2, Newsmakers Live fired off an e-mail disputing her claim.

Newsmakers Live eventually let Carter participate in the forum. But not before insisting her initial exclusion had nothing to do with race.

"Tonight, we are being called racists all over the Web because we failed to invite Ms. Liz Carter to participate," Welcome told the audience. "Our position is -- and will always be -- she wasn't invited because at the time we set this forum, we didn't know who she was."

So was Carter the victim of discrimination? Or is she a shrewd politician with an instinct for publicity?

Carter said she was told verbally not to participate. Eaton denied it.

"I made references that the candidates coming were black," Eaton said in an interview afterward. "I was unaware of her. It wasn't because she was white. It was: 'Who are you?' "

Carter and Eaton debated the matter on stage.

"You really ratcheted it up," Eaton told Carter during the forum. "You're pretty good at [gaining attention to yourself]. ... That was unfair."

"I think we're going to have to agree to disagree," Carter said.

Afterward, they shook hands and posed for pictures.