Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Biography

Elected: 2004, 5th term.

Born: October 26, 1944, Waxahachie, TX

Home: Kansas City, MO

Education: Prairie View A&M U., B.S. 1968, St. Paul Schl. of Theology, M.Div. 1974

Professional Career: Pastor, 1970-present; Radio talk-show host, 2002-04.

Ethnicity: Black/African American

Religion: Methodist

Family: Married (Dianne Donaldson) , 4 children (twins); 3 grandchildren

Democrat Emanuel Cleaver, first elected in 2004, is an ordained minister who is known for his leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as his efforts to bring more civility to Congress. “I am convinced, irreversibly, that the lack of civility is causing most of the problems we have in our government,” he told National Journal in 2011.

Cleaver grew up in Waxahachie, Texas, in a three-room shack with no plumbing or electricity. He graduated from Prairie View A&M University, moved to Kansas City and earned a divinity degree, and then became pastor of St. James United Methodist Church. He was elected to the City Council in 1979 and elected mayor in 1991. As mayor, Cleaver voiced support for the Clinton administration’s changes in welfare policy, which he described as “corrective surgery.” He backed expansion of downtown’s Bartle Hall Convention Center and supported the renovation of the deteriorating Liberty Memorial, the country’s largest World War I memorial. After leaving office, he hosted a radio talk show.

In December 2003, Democratic Rep. Karen McCarthy announced that she would not run for reelection, and Cleaver was widely expected to succeed her. Few expected just how tough Cleaver’s road to Congress would be. In the primary, he faced former National Security Council aide Jamie Metzl, who raised substantial funds. Metzl hammered Cleaver on ethics issues, questioning the propriety of a loan that Cleaver took out to purchase a car wash business and his failure to pay $36,000 in back taxes on the business. Cleaver won the primary by 60%-40%.

In the general election, Cleaver faced Republican businesswoman Jeanne Patterson, who had $3 million of her own money to spend. Like Metzl, she made an issue of Cleaver’s ethics, emphasizing bribery and fraud convictions of Cleaver’s allies, though there was no evidence that he was involved in any crimes. Cleaver said that Patterson was politically inexperienced and was trying to buy the seat. Cleaver won 55%-42%.

In the House, Cleaver’s voting record initially was near the center of the Democrats, but it has moved leftward in recent years, particularly on economic matters. Despite his religious background, he disdains injecting religion into politics; in his first term, he was one of 22 members, all Democrats, who refused to support a Republican House-passed resolution expressing support for Christmas that he dismissed as a sop to social conservatives. He opposed the 2011 deal to raise the federal debt limit, memorably describing it to an audience back home as a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich” that would cost jobs and hurt the poor. He later advocated means-testing of Medicare as part of a deficit reduction deal, calling it far preferable to across-the-board cuts. He has sponsored bills to promote financial literacy and to make it easier for students to vote.

Earlier, Cleaver got a seat on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s now-defunct Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. She designated Cleaver to act as a liaison with mayors and faith communities on those issues. He proposed changing House rules to require members to lease energy efficient vehicles in their districts. “The public would rather see a sermon than hear one,” said Cleaver, whose own taxpayer-leased car runs on used cooking grease. (He drew criticism in 2009 when it was revealed that the car’s $2,900 monthly cost was higher than that of any other House member.) His idea to create a Green Impact Zone in Kansas City became a reality in 2009. Cleaver has also been among those calling for travel and trade sanctions to be lifted on Cuba.

On the Financial Services Committee, Cleaver initially opposed the creation of the Troubled Assets Relief Program to bail out the financial industry, but backed a revised version in the face of constituents’ anger. He also voted in favor of taxing bonuses paid to AIG executives in March 2009, but later acknowledged it was an ill-considered reaction to public outrage.

Cleaver chaired the Black Caucus in the 112th Congress (2011-12) at a time when members often expressed dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama for failing to do more to help low-income minorities. Cleaver, who had backed Hillary Clinton over Obama in the 2008 primary, tried to walk a fine line between joining in the criticism and working to ensure the reelection of the nation’s first black president. “With 14% (black) unemployment, if we had a white president, we’d be marching around the White House … The president knows we are going to act in deference to him in a way we wouldn’t to someone white,” he told The Root in September 2012. He led a Black Caucus job creation initiative featuring public events in several cities that caucus members said led to as many as 2,000 people getting work. He also called for the dismissal of ethics charges against two Black Caucus members—Democrats Maxine Waters of California and Charles Rangel of New York—and questioned why blacks were predominately the targets of ethics investigations.

Since then, Cleaver periodically has been in the spotlight on issues involving race. When Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said in January 2014 that extending unemployment benefits discouraged people from looking for work, Cleaver told MSNBC that he was writing a song for Paul modeled after James Brown's "Say It Loud, I'm Black and Proud": "Say it loud, I'm stingy and I'm stuck." And when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., made comments about poverty in March 2014 that some African-American lawmakers said were highly offensive, Cleaver said Ryan ended up in "a mouth trap" because of his lack of experience with inner-city issues. After the August fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., touched off riots there, he defended Obama's decision not to visit the city, even as he told MSNBC that it "resembles Fallujah" because of the militarized law-enforcement presence.

Cleaver has been careful not to come across as an angry partisan. He and West Virginia Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in 2011 resurrected their idea for a “Civility Caucus,” and Cleaver issued regular pronouncements to colleagues stressing the importance of collegiality. “Bees cannot sting and make honey at the same time; they have to make a choice,” he told National Journal. He made an impassioned plea for togetherness in a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, bringing attendees to their feet and drawing positive reviews. “There is more power in unity than division,” he said.

Cleaver has easily won reelection, but questions about his car wash have continued to hound him. Bank of America sued him and his wife in 2012 over outstanding debt, late fees, and interest costs for a loan used to buy the business. The Small Business Administration guaranteed 75% of the loan, and local newspapers pointed out that if the Cleavers defaulted, taxpayers could be responsible. In February 2014, the Jackson County court clerk issued an order to withhold part of Cleaver’s salary to repay the more than $1.3 million that he and his wife owed the bank.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-4535

(202) 225-4403

RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building Room 2335
Washington, DC 20515-2505

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-4535

(202) 225-4403

RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building Room 2335
Washington, DC 20515-2505

DISTRICT OFFICE

(816) 842-4545

(816) 471-5215

101 West 31st Street
Kansas City, MO 64108-3318

DISTRICT OFFICE

(816) 842-4545

(816) 471-5215

101 West 31st Street
Kansas City, MO 64108-3318

DISTRICT OFFICE

(816) 833-4545

(816) 833-2991

211 West Maple Avenue
Independence, MO 64050-2815

DISTRICT OFFICE

(816) 833-4545

(816) 833-2991

211 West Maple Avenue
Independence, MO 64050-2815

DISTRICT OFFICE

(660) 584-7373

(660) 584-7227

1923 Main Street
Higginsville, MO 64037-1526

DISTRICT OFFICE

(660) 584-7373

(660) 584-7227

1923 Main Street
Higginsville, MO 64037-1526

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

8217 East Gregory Boulevard
Kansas City, MO 64133-6325

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(816) 561-2575

8217 East Gregory Boulevard
Kansas City, MO 64133-6325

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Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Emanuel Cleaver
Votes: 200,290
Percent: 60.52%
Jacob Turk
Votes: 122,149
Percent: 36.91%
2012 PRIMARY
Emanuel Cleaver
Unopposed
2010 GENERAL
Emanuel Cleaver
Votes: 102,076
Percent: 53.32%
Jacob Turk
Votes: 84,578
Percent: 44.18%
2010 PRIMARY
Emanuel Cleaver
Votes: 34,117
Percent: 100.0%
2008 GENERAL
Emanuel Cleaver
Votes: 197,249
Percent: 64.37%
Jacob Turk
Votes: 109,166
Percent: 35.63%
2008 PRIMARY
Emanuel Cleaver
Votes: 38,260
Percent: 100.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 (53%), 2008 (64%), 2006 (64%), 2004 (55%)

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