NEW YORK — In a presidential election year, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs is trying to use the marketing sizzle of his fashion and music in politics — no, he isn’t running for anything, at least not yet.
Combs says he wants to make voting “cool,’’ and admitted that he hasn’t cast a ballot since 2000.
The designer, entertainer and hip-hop impresario during a news conference in Manhattan on Tuesday outlined plans for a voter-education drive through a nonpartisan group called Citizen Change that is targeting people 18 to 34 years old with a blunt message: “Vote or Die.”
Combs said the “Vote or Die” slogan was chosen because the occupant of the Oval office makes life-and-death decisions that affect millions of Americans.
“The same way we make a Biggie album, a Sean John shirt or a ‘Spider-Man’ movie, or a ‘Matrix’ movie hot, we’re going to overwhelm you and excite you with the urgency of our message,” Combs said. “We have the power to make things cool, hot and sexy, from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive to the bling we buy.”
The organization plans a campaign to inform young voters about the race between President Bush and his presumed Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. In addition to sending out “street teams” to speak with voters in their neighborhoods, the campaign plans public service announcements and programming on cable networks including MTV and BET, as well as on radio.
Combs, accompanied by political consultant James Carville, who helped elect Bill Clinton president, and other advisers with ties to the Democratic party, said he has contributed an unspecified amount of start-up money for the effort. He said the campaign would be nonpartisan and that he had received support from Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie. An RNC spokeswoman confirmed that the meeting had occurred and that the RNC was looking into ways it might get involved.
Addressing his own voting record, Combs said: “I was just as disenfranchised as the other disenfranchised voters…I’m not talking from the outside. I understand how young people feel. They feel the system doesn’t work.”
While politics may be a new interest for Combs, this isn’t his first effort at community involvement. He turned the 2003 New York City Marathon into a personal fund-raising drive, amassing almost $2 million in contributions.
Combs said his group had allied itself with other youth-oriented voter organizations, including Rock the Vote and The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, which is backed by Russell Simmons, a fellow music producer and the founder of the Phat Farm brand. Designers from Phat Farm, as well as Marc Ecko, Tommy Hilfiger and Rocawear, contributed ideas for the group’s logo T-shirt, Combs said.
Combs called on others in the fashion world to back him and said, “Any other designers that want to get on board, come on and get down. Y’all know how to holler at me.”