The Future of Black Politics
By Jeff Johnson
Host, BET News
There have been two very different, yet related Mayoral races coming to a close tonight. Both have serious implication about the future of local Black politics in the United States.
Atlanta has been presented with the reality of having a non-Black Mayor for the first time in decades due to shifting demographics and the multitude of black political interests. In New York City many are questioning if Black leaders that have received donations and appointments from sitting Mayor Bloomberg have blocked Bill Thompson, a legitimate Black candidate, from gaining substantial African-American support and thus having a chance to win.
What is the real future of what used to be a monolithic and powerful Black-voting bloc in the face of new local demographics and ideological realities?
Cities like Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington D.C. and even Baltimore that have maintained overwhelmingly Black city leadership are being forced to rethink political methodology that has governed how things are done for decades.
The gentrification of urban cities has shifted primarily black populations from inner cities that are increasingly unaffordable to surrounding suburbs with more reasonable residential prices and taxes. These urban centers with shifting tax bases and more racially diverse populations will begin looking for political representation that is reflective of “their” (whatever demographics “they” may be) ideological beliefs.
While not rocket science, this reality has seemed to escape many Black leaders. It is making it more and more difficult for “old school” black leadership that is unwilling to embrace a broader political agenda vs. holding on to “race politics” that predicate their entire agenda on civil rights issues alone to survive.
In Atlanta I have heard more about the color of the candidates than what they have the capacity to DO. The universe of Black Political leadership is as diverse as the African-American community itself. For those that are concerned with maintaining some level of African-American political power in any city, it will take more than simply being Black. I for one am excited about it. How about elected officials (regardless of color) with the capacity to provide transformative representation for those who actually elected them.
While Atlanta is dealing with shifting political power, New York City is dealing with access to power as they question the integrity associated with Black leadership that receives resources, dollars, and appointments in exchange for their vote and support.
To put it in perspective, Calvin Butts, a well known and respected Black faith leader has been chastised for promising support to City Comptroller and Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson and in the late hours of the campaign, shifting his support to Mayor Bloomberg in the shadow of reports that his church’s community development corporation received considerable financial support from both Bloomberg’s foundation as well as from the Mayor personally.
This has cast a pejorative light on all the Black faith leaders, currently supporting the Mayor, who lead large Black congregations who would have typically supported the Black candidate. Many of these Black leader’s community development corporations have received large city contracts and some of the leaders have been appointed to city commissions. While it is easy to question Butts’ last minute shift, many of the other Black leaders have been working in cooperation with the Mayor since his last election. I thought that local leaders were always fighting to have city leadership provide access to resources and leadership opportunities often reserved for those outside the Black community. It seems a bit hypocritical to fight for that level of access, receive it, only to then say…”oh…now a black guy is running…so thanks, but no thanks”.
Thompson’s chances were less hijacked by Bloomberg’s support of Black leadership, than by the fact that he spent more money to run for a third term than any Mayoral candidate ever. It is important to support the development and advancement of candidates of color. I do hope my comments do not negate that point. However, as the realities of the shifting demographics of local communities change the face and agenda of the electorate, what once was effective black political strategy and mobilization will forever be changed.