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Kerry, Edwards Highlight CBC Foundation’s Event

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation kicks off its 34th annual policy agenda conference today, planning added political punch with a visit from Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry and running mate John Edwards and star power in the form of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Bill Cosby.

The Annual Legislative Conference, which spans four days and includes forums, town hall meetings and speeches, is expected to draw 30,000 participants, including House Members, state lawmakers and prominent black officials. The conference is held so such officials and those interested in issues facing black Americans can talk about legislative priorities and exchange ideas to help influence the nation’s policies.

This year’s conference is called “Defining the Moment and the Movement,” a title organizers say fits its goal of influencing the outcome of the 2004 election and the future of core domestic and foreign policy issues critical to minority Americans.

The CBC’s chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who will host a luncheon Thursday with state lawmakers to talk about the 2004 elections and voter outreach, said the four-day event “promises to be one of the best ever.” Reps. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) and Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) are co-chairing this year’s conference.

“The critical issues facing our country and the world will be discussed and addressed during the dozens of issue forums and brain trust during the conference,” Cummings said in a statement. “It is extremely important that we gather to once again define the moment and the movement.”

The two Democratic Senators on the White House ticket will be featured prominently. Kerry (Mass.) will serve as a keynote speaker at the conference dinner Saturday, while Edwards (N.C.) will attend a prayer breakfast earlier that morning. President Bush also was asked to speak at the dinner Saturday, but organizers said he has not yet responded to the invite.

Candice Tolliver, spokeswoman for the 39-member CBC, said members anticipate Kerry will lay out his vision for the country — in both foreign and domestic policy — and point out how he would lead differently than the current administration. The CBC is supporting Kerry’s candidacy, and Cummings is one of the Massachusetts Democrat’s key liaisons in the House on minority issues and get-out-the-vote efforts.

“We expect Mr. Kerry will talk about the bread-and-butter issues we haven’t heard the president talk about,” Tolliver said. “We want to hear about jobs and prescription drug premiums — those issues that affect the day-to-day quality of life and that people aren’t hearing about from the president.”

Tolliver said this year’s conference takes on added meaning given the 2004 election is just two months away, and CBC members want to ensure a change in the direction of the country.

“We will have more people there” than in the past, she said. “There is real energy and excitement out there and a sense of purpose to move voters in the right direction.”

Beyond the presidential hopefuls, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Cosby, Combs, Brown University President Ruth Simmons and Howard University President Patrick Swygert are expected to attend the conference.

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