The Black Hollywood Vote

Article excerpt

Byline: Allison Samuels

Will the African-American elite open its wallet for Obama a second time?

When Mattie Lawson's husband, Michael, suggested in 2003 that they consider hosting a political fundraiser at their lavish Los Angeles estate for a new up-and-comer in the field, she immediately said no.

The prominent African-American couple--he a recently retired partner in the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, she a major philanthropist and member of many boards--have long been considered two of the most powerful political brokers in California, with a reputation for choosing winning candidates. Their regular guests include Magic Johnson and his wife, Cookie; Diahann Carroll; Angela Bassett; Courtney Vance; and many others. But they'd never opened up their newly remodeled $8 million-plus Hancock Park mansion, formerly owned by boxing legend Muhammad Ali and decorated with Tiffany chandeliers and silk wallpaper. And Mattie wasn't sure she wanted to go that route.

"I had no idea how to say Barack Obama and wasn't very interested in learning at that point," says Mattie with a laugh, sitting in the comfortable sunroom of the estate. That changed after she agreed to speak with then-State Senator Obama--over Skype. Since then the couple has raised nearly $2 million for Obama's various campaigns.

Now the preparations are underway to do it again, starting with a luncheon at the Lawsons' home the first week of February, followed by numerous other events before Election Day rolls around, including a spring appearance by the president.

It's an important set of fundraisers, given the crucial role of African-American financial support--and votes--in Obama's 2008 victory. But it is also an effort filled with challenges. As one member of the Congressional Black Caucus put it, "Last time around it was enough that he was a smart black man with a beautiful family running for president." This time, he'll have to contend with some disappointment in his record among African-Americans, including grumbling from leaders such as Cornel West and Tavis Smiley about what they see as Obama's lack of attention to the needs of minorities and the poor. …