Democrats reject Farrakhan help with voter signup

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WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party has defused a conflict that threatened to sour relations with Jewish supporters by declaring it will not work with the Nation of Islam to register voters.

The Democratic National Committee drew criticism from Jewish groups and Republicans after a report on the possible collaboration between the DNC and the Nation of Islam to register voters for the November election.

But the DNC denied the account. In a letter to the Anti-Defamation League, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), DNC general chairman, said the Nation of Islam had not asked anyone at the DNC to cooperate in the voter drive.

He also said federal election law prohibited the DNC from taking part in a drive with a tax-exempt, religious group such as the Nation of Islam.

Nation of Islam leader Louis "Farrakhan has used language of malice and division," Dodd wrote. "The Democratic Party, and our country, stand for just the opposite: community, understanding and respect for the differences among our people.

"The DNC therefore cannot and will not work with any organization led by him, or anyone else who espouses hatred and bigotry."

The controversy stemmed from a June news conference announcing the voter registration drive.

The Associated Press quoted Leonard Mohammed, Farrakhan's chief of staff, as saying, "Our efforts to engage in this kind of activity must be encouraged by the Democratic Party."

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), one of Farrakhan's harshest critics, called on the DNC to distance itself from Farrakhan.

Amy Weiss Tobe, DNC press secretary, then reportedly said the DNC was not working with Farrakhan, but she declined to rule out future cooperation with the Nation of Islam.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations responded with a letter of protest, as did King, Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour and the Catholic League.

The ADL asked Dodd to clarify the DNC's position, and welcomed his response.

"While the goal of voter registration drives is laudable, we are pleased the DNC has rejected the possibility of cooperation with the Nation of Islam, an organization with a long and well-documented history of racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry," said Abraham Foxman, ADL national director.

The Conference of Presidents also lauded the decision, but King and other Republicans did not.

After raising concerns in June, King only last week received a letter from DNC National Chairman Donald Fowler disavowing collaboration with the Nation of Islam.

The Democratic Party was "hesitant to denounce any group that wishes to participate constructively in the political process," he said, but added that Farrakhan's racism "makes it impossible for us to endorse the Nation of Islam's activities."

King criticized Fowler for "reluctantly" acting, but the DNC's Tobe said King was "making something out of nothing."