A former Des Moines school board member who is pondering a run for governor quizzed a U.S. Census official during a news conference in Des Moines this morning.

Jonathan Narcisse announced on December 24 that he was exploring a run for governor in 2010 as either a Democrat or an independent. Narcisse, the owner of a publishing company, attended the news conference and Narcisse asked why the Census Bureau isn’t doing more to encourage his fellow African-Americans to fill out their Census forms.

“I publish a statewide English-language paper targeting the Latino community and also a Spanish-language paper statewide and the outreach has been impressive. Contrasted, however, the outreach statewide to the African-American community has been almost nonexistent in a community that has historically been undercounted,” Narcisse said. “What strategies will you utilize to ensure that that undercount doesn’t continue, particularly since last time we only got about six out of every 10 African-Americans that lived in Iowa?” 

The Census Bureau has had an office in Des Moines for the past two years and soon will have five offices operating in the state, with a staff of about 5000 by April.  Narcisse suggested the Census Bureau has invested “huge resources” in reaching out to Hispanic residents in the state, while there has been — in Narcisse’s opinion — a “complete lack of commitment” to conducting outreach in areas of the state where African-Americans live.

“In a lot of the communities where we have African-Americans that have migrated here, there just is a nonexistent presence,” Narcisse said.

Narcisse said Iowa’s African-American community is harmed by an “undercount” in the Census, as spending for many federal programs is determined by a population-based formula.

Rich Gerdes of the U.S. Census Bureau is the official who fielded all ten questions from Narcisse.

“Did that answer your question?” Gerdes asked Narcisse, who replied: “No, other than that you don’t really have an Iowa-based plan.”

Narcisse, leader of the 2001 State of Black Iowa Initiative, held a series of debates in December with Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Rants.  During an interview with the Des Moines Register in December, Narcisse said he believes he has a “legitimate shot” at being elected governor in 2010.