Saturday, May 05, 2007

Durbin says Obama needs Secret Service in part because he's black

By Shamus Toomey for the Chicago Sun-Times:

Concerns about Sen. Barack Obama's safety that led to him getting a Secret Service detail "had a lot to do with race," Sen. Dick Durbin said Friday.

"I wished we lived in a country where that is not a problem, but it still is," Durbin said. "The fact that Barack Obama is such a highly visible African-American candidate, I think increases his vulnerability."

Obama, vying to become America's first black president, received his Secret Service protection Thursday. It was earlier than any other presidential candidate, excluding Hillary Clinton, who is protected as a former first lady.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in Chicago for Rep. Jan Schakowsky's Ultimate Women's Power Lunch at the Chicago Hilton, was on the panel that recommended Obama be guarded by federal agents.

"I would just say this -- the bipartisan leadership committee that makes this decision, it didn't take long to decide that it would be important for Sen. Obama to have this security," Pelosi said.

The country's first female House speaker, flanked by Secret Service agents, said she couldn't share details, but added: "Suffice to say that it was self-evident that Sen. Obama attracts a great deal of attention wherever he goes, so it was thought, under those circumstances, that he should have" it.

Joining Pelosi at the Schakowsky luncheon was Geraldine Ferraro, who in 1984 became the first woman to run for vice president on a major ticket. She said her Secret Service detail "was the best part" of that campaign.

"There are nuts out there, and some of them threaten crazy things to do, but the Secret Service is there," she said. "If I look back on the 1984 campaign, if you were to say what was the best part of it, I'd say the Secret Service because they really do make your life a lot easier. I think it's going to be easier for him to do the number of events that he does because they're there."

Ferraro said she spoke with Obama's wife, Michelle, at the luncheon Friday. "And I said she'll sleep without having to worry about anything. So that's nice," Ferraro said.

Michelle Obama was not made available for comment, but her spokeswoman, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, said, "the family is thankful for the protection and the peace of mind that the Secret Service is providing."

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