BY MICHAEL VASQUEZmrvasquez@MiamiHerald.com
In the midst of delivering an impassioned speech decrying President Obama's health care reform, GOP congressional hopeful Corey Poitier veered dangerously off-script.
``Listen up, Buckwheat -- this is not how it is done!'' Poitier blurted out.
The apparent comparison of the nation's commander-in-chief to a 1920s Our Gang and The Little Rascals character -- a character seen as demeaning and offensive by many African Americans -- sent a jolt of notoriety through Poitier's previously-unknown campaign.
``The press has run amok with this, and turned me into a racist,'' said Poitier, who is himself black. The candidate complains CNN never bothered to interview him before running its own version of the story. ``I've never seen Buckwheat as a disparaging character. People love Buckwheat.''
Poitier says he and his brother have in fact called each other ``Buckwheat'' as a way to gently chide the other for being foolish -- essentially a substitute for the word ``dummy.''
While speaking to a group of Broward Republicans Monday night, Poitier says he was trying to call the healthcare bill -- not Obama -- ``dumb and silly.'' The candidate says he was initially surprised that the public instead took his comment as directed at the President.
``People can connect anything these days,'' Poitier said.
In an interview at a Miramar Starbucks, Poitier stared down at his own hands to further demonstrate he meant no racial slight.
``This isn't a spray tan,'' Poitier, 36, said of his skin tone. ``This is real.''
Poitier is one of nearly a dozen candidates vying to fill the open congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who is running for a spot in the Senate. Poitier is the only Republican running to represent the heavily-Democratic district that takes in portions of Pembroke Pines, Miami Gardens and Miami Shores, among other areas.
To date, Poitier, who lives in Hollywood, said he has raised a modest $1,500 in campaign donations -- not surprising given the widely-held expectation that Democrats will retain control of the seat come November.
The Democratic primary for the seat features a heavyweight list of well-funded, experienced candidates -- including a state senator, a Miami Gardens mayor and multiple other local elected officials.
``Corey Poitier has no chance,'' said Democratic candidate Phillip Brutus, a former state representative. ``It's a Democratic seat, period.''
Brutus said The Little Rascals ``did not advocate the subjugation of black people or anything like that'' but that Buckwheat was still an unflattering depiction of African Americans -- created at a time when blacks still suffered under segregation.
Poitier, Brutus said, ``didn't think before he spoke, and he just said a stupid thing.''
Poitier, while insisting he meant no disrespect to Obama, has publicly apologized to both the president and residents of the congressional district for any misunderstanding. The long-shot candidate has had his hands full reading dozens of angry e-mails and Facebook messages that are pouring in.
Many are dripping with hate.
``You're an Uncle Tom, you're an N-word,'' Poitier said some of the e-mails say.
For now, Poitier is taking the controversy in stride, mindful it at least raised awareness of his candidacy -- even if it's not the kind of awareness he'd prefer. As an economics and government teacher at North Miami Beach Senior High School, Poitier also offered himself up to his students as a cautionary tale.
``I said, `I learned a lesson, that you have to watch everything you say, something you think might be harmless might be offensive to someone else,' '' Poitier said. Another porch negro has been discoveredhttp://www.miamiherald.com/2010/03/24/1545849/black-candidate-corey-poitier.html#ixzz0jDV28Mj5