Dems question Trump’s sincerity with visit to poor area

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s planned visit Saturday to an African-American church service in Detroit will take the New York billionaire into one of the city’s poorest ZIP codes as some black leaders question his sincerity about their plight.

Trump is coming to the city with native Detroiter Dr. Ben Carson, who is advising Trump on black voter outreach after pushing for an end to welfare dependency during his own failed presidential bid.

Carson said in an interview this week that Trump is looking for ways to “provide a ladder of opportunity” in urban areas that he believes have been neglected by Democrats.

Trump’s foray into decades-old urban issues in a predominantly Democratic stronghold like Detroit is part of the businessman’s approach to governing differently than Democrat Hillary Clinton would, he said.

“If we really, truly want to make America great again, we can’t have big pockets of dysfunction,” said Carson, who grew up poor on Detroit’s southwest side. “We can’t have large inner cities where you have high (high school) dropout rates and broken families and, you know, high crime and incarceration — this leads to non-functionality, and we just can’t have it.”

As Trump wades into urban affairs in an attempt to broaden his populist appeal, African-American leaders in the Democratic Party are highlighting the support Trump has received from white supremacists — and the Clinton campaign highlights Trump’s appeal to the “radical fringe.”

“The fact is no matter what Donald Trump says when he arrives, there is no pivot. There is no new Donald Trump,” Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon said Thursday. “He’s the same divisive presidential candidate he’s always been.”

Trump is “not pandering” to black voters, whom Republican presidential candidates have paid little attention to in past election cycles, Carson said.

“Most of them have not made a serious outreach and have been constrained by political correctness in terms of talking about what the real problems are,” Carson said. “Donald Trump tends to be real, he tends not to be a politician. And, you know, it rubs some people the wrong way, and it rubs some people the right way.”

Carson will accompany Trump to Great Faith Ministries International Church on Grand River, where they will attend a morning worship service at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The church’s pastor, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, plans to interview Trump privately for a television program on his African-American Christian cable channel, the Impact Network. The air date of the program will be announced Saturday, according to church officials.

The New York Times reported Thursday it obtained a draft of a script of Trump’s answers to Bishop Jackson’s questions that had been submitted in advance. One of three excerpted questions published by the Times asks the New York business man how he would change the perception in the black community that his administration would be racist — a question that Jackson told The Detroit News on Monday he would ask.

“I’m going to ask him that question: Are you a racist?” Jackson said.

According to the Times, Trump’s campaign advises him to avoid repeating the word racist in his answer and to speak instead about improving education.

The other questions in the excerpts dealt with Trump’s vision for black America and how he would reduce racial tensions in the country.

In a Friday phone interview with CNN, Jackson said he submitted the questions in advance, as he had done with a prayer invocation involving the White House.

"“I didn’t see anything wrong with it," he said. But he said he has decided to change the questions now that the Times article has been published.

The Clinton campaign attacked Trump's planned interview.

“Not surprisingly, Trump's ignorance on issues like the economy, criminal justice reform, the meaning of quality health care or systemic racism, has forced him to resort to scripted conversations and staged engagements with our communities,” Marlon Marshall, director of state campaigns and political engagement, said Thursday in a statement.

After initially saying the Trump interview would air live, Jackson said it may not air for a week.

Democratic political consultant Steve Hood questioned why the Impact Network would sit on an interview with the media-savvy presidential candidate for so long.

“You don’t know who’s going to have control of that tape for a week,” Hood said.

The Times reported, citing an unnamed official, that some Trump aides would work with the network to edit the taped interview “so that the final version reflected the campaign’s wishes.” But Trump spokesman Jason Miller said Friday the campaign would not edit the final transcript.

And Jackson vehemently denied that the Trump campaign would edit the final transcript.

"“This has never been discussed with me," he told CNN. "...Once we have the interview, we will show it raw, like it is.”

The New York businessman will address the congregation for five to 10 minutes after his taped interview, Miller said. Trump will then tour parts of Detroit with Carson, he said.

But Jackson said Friday that Trump might greet the congregation after service, like other politicians have done, but official remarks were not in the works.

"It’s not going to be a speech to the congregation," he said.

For now, there are no plans for Trump to take questions from the congregation, which has angered some African-American leaders.

“I don’t think he ought to be afforded a photo op, that he ought to be forced to answer some hard questions about what he’s going to do to improve the lives of the people of 48204,” said the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, a politically active Detroit pastor.

Nearly 44 percent of Detroiters in the 48204 ZIP code on the city’s west side live in poverty with a median annual income of $21,583 in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sheffield is organizing a 10 a.m. protest march Saturday from Grand River and Wyoming to the church near Grand River and Oakman.

Jackson has been under fire all week from some fellow Detroit ministers for letting Trump into his church and keeping the doors closed to the public.

“It is a very large concern to faith leaders here in the city that we will not have an opportunity to challenge him,” said Corletta Vaughn, senior pastor at Holy Ghost Cathedral on Grand Boulevard.

Clinton spoke at Vaughn’s church two days before the March 8 Democratic presidential primary, which she narrowly lost to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Vaughn denounced Trump’s visit Thursday in a media conference call with Napoleon that was organized by the Clinton campaign.

“We certainly are not going to embrace this very maligned attempt to bring some clarity of who he is to the African-American community,” she said.

Since Trump’s trip to Great Faith Ministries was announced Monday, Jackson has spent the week defending his decision and prodding Clinton to accept his invitation to appear on his cable TV network, which claims a reach into 50 million homes on Comcast, DirecTV and Dish Network.

The Clinton campaign has not said whether the former secretary of state will take up Jackson on his offer.

“One of them is going to be the president, whether you like it or not,” Jackson said in an interview earlier this week. “We want our people to know both sides.”

Twitter: @ChadLivengood