September 15, 2002
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A Republican congressman is offering campaign volunteers extra protection for their forays into immigrant neighborhoods: escorts from the National Rifle Association.
Democrats said the offer by Rep. Robin Hayes' campaign is an insult to residents, and they held a rally Saturday.
"A representative in Congress should not be afraid of the district they represent," said Mecklenburg County Democratic chairman John Cotham, one of about 15 people who turned up in the rain to protest.
"That's the most insulting comment I've heard a politician ever make about his constituents," he said.
In an e-mail sent Thursday to Republicans in the county about a campaign gathering, Hayes' campaign managers said volunteers need not fear.
"NRA members will cover neighborhoods that might be uncomfortable for some volunteers," the e-mail said.
Hayes campaign manager Richard Hudson later conceded the message may have been insensitive, and he said he hoped the NRA escorts would not be carrying guns.
"I could understand, going back and reading it, that it could have been worded better," Hudson said. He said the campaign's main concern is fast-moving traffic and not crime.
An aide to Hayes' Democratic opponent, Chris Kouri, said Kouri's volunteers have never had problems in Charlotte's low-to-middle income east side neighborhoods.
"We've knocked on doors in this neighborhood," said the aide, Paul Blank. "We've had women and children go door to door, too."
The volunteers went without NRA escorts, he said.