Bi­den’s Kenosha agenda: Meet Blake fam­ily, visit church, win Wis­con­sin

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - LYNN SWEET D.C. DECODER lsweet@sun­times.com | @lynnsweet

KENOSHA, Wis. — Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den ar­rived at Grace Lutheran Church on Thurs­day on a heal­ing — and turnout — mis­sion, ty­ing the Ja­cob Blake shoot­ing to a se­ries of larger race-re­lated is­sues two months be­fore his show­down with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“I made a mis­take about some­thing. I thought you could de­feat hate. It only hides,” said Bi­den, masked and so­cially dis­tanc­ing. “It only hides.”

Tak­ing notes as he lis­tened, Bi­den heard from a for­mer Ma­rine, a looted pic­ture frame shop owner and a lawyer who worked de­fense and pros­e­cu­tion only to con­clude no mat­ter what side of the aisle she was on, the sys­tem was rigged against Black and Brown de­fen­dants.

Trump was in Kenosha on Tues­day with a starkly dif­fer­ent agenda, em­pha­siz­ing and prais­ing law en­force­ment, while ig­nor­ing the in­ci­dent that’s sparked protests and ri­ots: A white Kenosha po­lice of­fi­cer shot the Evanston-raised Blake, 29, a Black man, seven times in the back. Blake is par­a­lyzed with other se­vere in­ter­nal in­juries.

Bi­den, trav­el­ing with his wife, Jill, had a combo as­sign­ment on Thurs­day: meet­ing with the Blake fam­ily — he talked to the hos­pi­tal­ized younger Blake by phone — the church visit that show­cased the em­pa­thy he earned through tragedy, and win­ning the key swing state of Wis­con­sin.

The rap against Hil­lary Clin­ton was she never cam­paigned in Wis­con­sin in 2016, con­tribut­ing to her 22,000-vote de­feat in the state. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Bi­den, his vice pres­i­dent, won the state in 2008 and 2012.

Bi­den’s visit on Thurs­day was his first in the Bad­ger State since the 2018 midterm elec­tions, when he came to stump for folks on the Demo­cratic Wis­con­sin ticket.

Be­cause of the COVID-19 pan­demic, Bi­den had no in-per­son ap­pear­ance be­fore the April Wis­con­sin pri­mary. And af­ter can­cel­ing the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion ac­tiv­i­ties in Mil­wau­kee, he also scrapped plans to de­liver his ac­cep­tance speech in that city be­cause of the state’s spike in coro­n­avirus in­fec­tions.

Af­ter Kenosha, Bi­den made a sec­ond stop in Wauwatosa, tar­get­ing the GOP vote-rich Mil­wau­kee sub­urbs. The idea is to shave points from Trump’s pre­sumed mar­gin on that turf. In a back­yard, Bi­den talked about school re­open­ings dur­ing the pan­demic, a topic aimed at wor­ried par­ents.

Kenosha is in a swing county in a swing state, with Trump pre­vail­ing in 2016 by just 286 votes. Obama and Bi­den won here in 2008 and 2012.

Kenosha County Demo­cratic Chair Lori Hawkins, a Bris­tol res­i­dent and an English teacher, and I talked about Kenosha be­fore she headed to Grace Lutheran Church.

“We’re glad [Bi­den] is here to­day, and peo­ple un­der­stand why he hasn’t been here,” she said, as Trump’s cam­paign on Thurs­day con­tin­ued to pound Bi­den for not be­ing in Wis­con­sin be­fore now.

Trump on Tues­day “didn’t meet the mo­ment that we needed from a pres­i­dent. He was not here to heal our com­mu­nity,” she said. Heal­ing is what Bi­den is sell­ing.

If Bi­den were pres­i­dent, he said he would cre­ate a com­mis­sion and get ev­ery­one — po­lice chiefs, civil rights ac­tivists, Black and Latino rep­re­sen­ta­tives — to­gether to “work it out. Be­cause a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of po­lice are de­cent peo­ple.”

Near the end, Bi­den said, “I think there is a chance for a real awak­en­ing here. And the point is, I don’t think we have any al­ter­na­tive but to fight.”

And to the ner­vous Democrats who think Trump, af­ter his law and or­der con­ven­tion, “re­ally made in­roads,” Bi­den said in a big stage whis­per, “He hasn’t.”

“Not at all. This should give you a lit­tle bit of con­fi­dence in the Amer­i­can peo­ple. They ain’t buy­ing it.”

Ear­lier in the day, a block away from where Blake was shot, I talked to Ardis Mosley, a mem­ber of a pi­o­neer­ing Kenosha civil rights fam­ily, as youths were paint­ing mu­rals on the boarded-up Diver Dan’s Scuba and Aquatic Cen­ter.

Her brother, Tim Ma­hone, of their fam­ily Mary Lou & Arthur F. Ma­hone Fund — which pro­vides schol­ar­ships and ser­vices to Kenosha’s com­mu­ni­ties of color — mod­er­ated the Bi­den event at the church.

Mosley said the stu­dent mu­ral project is in­tended, in part, for the youths to “ex­press their feel­ings about what is tak­ing place. And also to show them that all is not dis­cour­aged.” They’ve been paint­ing for two days and have more work to do on Fri­day.

Will the Trump and Bi­den vis­its have any im­pact on the vote? Said Mosley, Bi­den “rep­re­sents hope, that change is go­ing to come,” that “there is a brighter to­mor­row.”

CAROLYN KASTER/AP

Joe Bi­den meets Thurs­day with mem­bers of the com­mu­nity at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wis­con­sin.

LYNN SWEET/SUN-TIMES

Kenosha County Demo­cratic Chair Lori Hawkins said of Pres­i­dent Trump’s visit ear­lier this week, “He was not here to heal our com­mu­nity.”

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