January 10th, 2010
04:32 PM ET
12 years ago

Wilder sounds off on Reid remark controversy

Washington (CNN) – Douglas Wilder, an African-American political trailblazer, sounded off Sunday about controversial remarks made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during the 2008 presidential campaign which were not disclosed until the recent publication of a book chronicling the historic White House race.

Journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann reported the remarks in their new book, "Game Change," which is scheduled to be in bookstores Tuesday.

The authors quote Reid as saying privately that Obama, as a black candidate, could be successful thanks, in part, to his "light-skinned" appearance and speaking patterns "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

In a statement to CNN Saturday, Reid said, "I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words."

"I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments.”

Asked about Reid’s comments, Virginia Democrat Douglas Wilder, who became the first African-American to be elected governor of a state 20 years ago, took issue with Reid’s assumptions about race relations. “We’re not where he thought we may have been a year ago,” Wilder said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

“We crossed that threshold 20 years ago,” Wilder said making a reference to his own historic election as Virginia’s chief executive in 1989.

“The unfortunate thing, John,” Wilder told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, “is that one snippet ... by Harry Reid illustrates the need for a more open discussion about race and put it where it belongs – into the closet. [President] Obama wasn’t elected because he was – or was not – of any color. He represented a change. He represented a fastening of the dreams and the aspirations of the American people to someone who could bring about change.”

Saying he would have liked to have thought his own election as Virginia’s governor would have put to rest any concerns about an African-American candidate’s race, Wilder also said Sunday that he was “saddened … to see that 20 years later there still is that degree of apprehension on behalf of some people who are in leadership positions.”

Though he was critical of Reid for the recently reported comments, Wilder said he disagreed with the suggestion Sunday from Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee’s first African-American Chairman, that Reid should step down.

And, on the eve of Obama’s first anniversary in office, Wilder also said he thought it was too early to assess the nation’s first African-American president.

“I think it’s too early to even give a grade,” Wilder told King. “Because I think the Obama administration inherited a tremendous amount of problems – not just one. And every day things change.”

“It takes a year or two to get your sea legs, to get your feet under you,” Wilder said pointing to his own tenure as Virginia’s governor. “I had some degree of executive experience. Obama’s had none at all.”

But, Wilder added that he thought Obama was on his way to developing into the kind of president who knows how to wield the power of the nation’s most powerful office.

–CNN Political Editor Mark Preston contributed to this report.

soundoff (161 Responses)
  1. Paula Lacey

    It has to do with INTENT and MOTIVES. Reid's intent was not to hurt Obama, but to help him. His heart was in the right place. He just said something that was insensitive. The Republicans are up to their old tricks again, just like during the campaign. What Reid said was true, and we all know it. Jesse Jackson or Wesley Snipes could never have won the Presidency. Race relations in this country is still a work in progress, and we will get there one day.

    January 10, 2010 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  2. lbjack

    This is totally idiotic. Reid was making a PRIVATE statement that was purely political. Whether it was accurate or not is beside the point. Anyway, Reid, like Pelosi, should resign from his position, though not from his seat, for the good of the party, though not because of that statement, the Rethugs have pounced on. Can you imagine, the party that brought us the economic meltdown blaming Obama for it? And now, the party of racism and bigotry being sanctimonious about Reid's statement? And now, of course the AA demagogues are holding forth. What a foul, traitorous bunch they all are!

    January 10, 2010 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  3. Hombre en Arkansas

    Yes, Senator Reid made a mistake. He admitted it and apologized. The President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, being the Christian gentleman that he is, accepted the apology as sufficient. Now, let's get back to focusing on the progress that Senator Reid and a great president are working so hard - together - to achieve.

    January 10, 2010 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  4. Paula Lacey

    The Republicans are stirring this up because Reid supported the Health Plan. They think Americans are stupid. During the campaign they made up stuff and are still during so. They remind me of the Chinese government and the old Pravda Russian newspaper .Creating propaganda ! They insult the intelligence of the America people. They can't pull one over on us.

    January 10, 2010 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  5. Paula Lacey

    Black people aren't upset by Reid's comment. They live in the REAL world. Why are the Republicans?

    January 10, 2010 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  6. rtmin

    Let the double standards start rolling!

    January 10, 2010 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  7. Baby Boomer

    While I respect Gov. Wilder a great deal, he has never been a darker skin African American so he really can't know how differently we are treated some times. Even in our own communities. I know he wants to believe things are greatly improved and they are on many levels but it's still harder for a dark skin black man to get a taxi in New York that any other person on the planet. I love President Obama and I think he's doing a very good job given the mess he has to clean up but I know in my heart of hearts it helps that he looks the way he looks...

    January 10, 2010 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  8. Mike From Texas

    Who cares what Reid said, this Nation has bigger issues to deal with. Senator Reid is not going to step down like many People want it's not going to happen end of story. The bottom line is this we as Americans should support President Obama regardless of political party affiliation we are One Nation, One People let's give President Obama a chance just as we would any other POTUS. Thank you God Bless America and it's People.

    January 10, 2010 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  9. j rose

    We need to get his old bag of bones out of the hallowed walls of Congress. Actually, the blacks of our nation and other less fortunate individuals are being pandered to by any politician who will listen. Now the nation's economy and healthcare have been put in a crisis just because old men (and women) want the vote of the poor. We have big problems with ethics in the USA from Hollywood to Washington D.C.

    January 10, 2010 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  10. carlos

    all of those jerks on this forum, stop your stupidity by saying that if Sen. Reed was a republican, the left would and the left should......this is the most unintelligent comment coming from those repugnant reptiles........and the Senator stays right where he is and no more aplologies and no way he should resign......get a life you idiot reptiles

    January 10, 2010 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  11. alex birman

    Senator Reid is a great American, and a champion of civil rights.

    January 10, 2010 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
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