MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich defended himself today against charges of racial insensitivity by noting that he’s worked with African-American leaders in the past.
At a town hall event meant to appeal to Latino voters at a Mexican restaurant here, an African-American man confronted Gingrich about recent comments he made that have drawn the ire of the NACCP and other civil rights leader. Gingrich controversially said last week, “I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”
At the event today, Yvan Lamothe, a 59-year-old former New Hampshire state employee and small business owner, drew strong applause from the crowd when he told Gingrich that he has never taken welfare or food stamps and was offended by Gingrich’s suggestion that most African Americans do. Gingrich responded with something like the classic “some of my best friends are black” defense, noting that he has worked with people like Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell in the past:
LAMOTHE: My question to you is, do think blacks represent an American problem. And if you don’t think that, when you start using blacks in general as a stepping stone or a punching bag–
GINGRICH: I didn’t say that. I just want to say that frankly this makes me very irritated. The Democratic National Committee took totally out of context half of the sentence, OK? I mean clearly somebody who’s served with Colin Powell, who has served with Condoleezza Rice, I have a fairly good sense of the fact that African Americans have many contributions to America.
Gingrich went on to say that he simply wants to help more people of all ethnicities find jobs and get them off food stamps.
ThinkProgress spoke with Lamothe after the event, who was not satisfied with Gingrich’s response. “He didn’t say some black people, he just said black people. I was incensed by that,” he said. “He didn’t really really address it, he said he didn’t say it, but he’s clearly on tape saying it,” Lamothe added. “He should stop using blacks as a punching bag.” Lamothe concluded: “It was erroneous, it was wrong, and it was not fair.”