MANCHESTER, N.H. (Jan. 8, 2012) — The explosive issue of race hit Newt Gingrich at a Mexican-Carribean restaurant here on Sunday.
“My question to you is, do think blacks represent an American problem?” asked Yvan Lamothe, an African American who is a former parole officer and small business owner from of Weare, N.H., in the start of an exchange with Gingrich.
Not at all, Gingrich responded. He cited his professional relationships with two prominent African Americans, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, both of whom had been Secretary of State. Gingrich accused the media of taking his statements out of context.
The incident was provoked by some of Gingrich’s comments on the campaign trail, in which he said he was the only Republican candidate who would go to the NAACP to discuss paychecks, welfare and food stamps. He has also criticized President Obama’s economic policies as encouraging people to rely food stamps. Those comments have been widely interpreted as racially insensitive, if not outright racist.
When he heard Newt Gingrich refer to blacks as welfare recipients, Lamothe said, he was incensed.
“He didn’t really answer the question,” said Lamothe. “I’ve been living here 40 years with my head up,” he added. “That blanket statement is the farthest thing from the truth.”
In a touch of irony, the event was in the Don Quixote restaurant and aimed at cultivating support for Gingrich among minorities. The restaurant was jam-packed. To garner the Latino vote, he offered several proposals.
As president, he said, he would expand a worker’s visa program that would provide legal residency to immigrants. He proposed having it run by credit card companies like MasterCard and Visa. They are better at running programs than government bureacracies, Gingrich said.
Another proposal would provide a path to permanent residency for illegal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for over 20 years and fulfilled other requirements. Gingrich said they would have to have deep family ties in the U.S., have a record of paying their bills and not have a criminal record.
Hector Velez, 44, a small business owner from Manchester, said Gingrich was a straight shooter. He voted for Obama in 2008, but two years ago registered as an independent. He is especially disappointed by the new health care law requiring individuals to buy insurance, he said.
Gingrich’s proposals satisfied Velez. “He is the best choice,” he said, “as of right now.”
(Elizabeth Carey, a graduate student in the magazine, newspaper and online journalism program at Syracuse University, is reporting for the Utica Observer-Dispatch.)