Magazine article The Crisis

Mel Watt Sets New Agenda as Chair of the CBC

Magazine article The Crisis

Mel Watt Sets New Agenda as Chair of the CBC

Article excerpt

At a time when the Democrats are fighting President Bush's aggressive legislative agenda on Capitol Hill, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has selected a no-nonsense North Carolina lawyer to lead the 43-member group during the 109th session of Congress.

Melvin L. Watt (D-N.C.), a 12-year veteran in Congress, was unanimously elected to succeed former CBC chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). Watt is known for rebuking President Bush's war in Iraq and accusing presidential candidate Ralph Nader of splitting potential Democratic votes during the 2004 general election.

"I think the most important thing is for the caucus to be as unified as we possibly can and define the purpose of having a Congressional Black Caucus," Watt told The Crisis.

A native of Mecklenburg County, N.C., Watt was a 1967 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

After earning his law degree from Yale University Law School in 1970, Watt practiced law between 1971 and 1992, serving one term in the North Carolina State Senate from 1985 to 1986. He was elected to Congress in 1992 and currently serves on the House Financial Services Committee, House Judiciary Committee and Joint Economic Committee.

In his new role, says Cummings, Watt needs to be a consensus builder, which can be a tough job at times. He also says the caucus must do more in the areas of civil rights and affirmative action.

"We must go back to our roots, the Black church," Cummings says. "The Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House; we have no choice but to form as many coalitions as we can, and the Black church is our base. …

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