The NAACP of Pittsburgh says it was "disheartened" that U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle said he couldn't attend a debate with Democratic challenger Jerry Dickinson -- though on Thursday Doyle appeared to change his ground by saying he might be able to appear after all.
“We were disheartened and disappointed to hear of your decision not to participate,” read a letter the civil rights group said it sent to area media and "the community at large" on Thursday.
“Not only does the Black community constitute 22% of the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District, but it forms a key and historically loyal constituency of the Democratic Party,” the letter said.
The organization noted that given Pittsburgh’s lack of livability for black residents, and the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has had on black Americans, the debate is more necessary than ever.
Doyle had declined the invitation on May 1, writing that he couldn't commit to a date because the pandemic made his schedule to return to Washington uncertain. He suggested that NAACP members submit questions to another debate he is scheduled to appear at later this month, which will be hosted by the League of Women Voters.
But the NAACP letter objected to having its issues "shoehorned" into a debate hosted by the League, which the NAACP said had its own areas of interest and which "is not Black-led or founded on a mission of racial equity." It gave Doyle until noon Saturday to commit to one of two debate times. The forums would take place with or without him, the letter said.
On Thursday, Doyle said he fully intends to participate in both debates, but that he needs to figure out when he’s going back to Washington, D.C.
“We’re probably going to get called up maybe this coming week,” Doyle said. “They’re giving us a 72-hour notice. All I’m asking for with the League of Women Voters and the NAACP is some flexibility.”
Doyle’s May 1 letter to the NAACP did not, however, make such a request, or indicate that Doyle might have any flexibility to attend.
The dispute may be surprising for a Congressman whose voting record in the last sessions of Congress earned an 'A' grade and a score of 97 from an NAACP scorecard. The only blemish was a missed 2017 vote on a Congressional Black Caucus budget proposal that failed by a two-to-one margin.
Doyle said he has tremendous respect for the NAACP, a group full of “friends and allies.”
“Why would I shy from an organization that I have a perfect voting record with?" he asked. "I have no reason not to do it.”