Thank you, Aaron Turpeau.
Turpeau, one of the original cogs in Maynard Jackson’s political machine, has been distributing a memo for the so-called Black Leadership Forum that burst into the public realm Thursday. The document describes, among other things, a desire for black voters in this fall’s Atlanta mayoral election to back a single black candidate in order to defeat Mary Norwood, the first serious white challenger for the office in some years.
Judging by public reaction to the memo on ajc.com and by statements from some of the candidates, there is rightly a lot of anger among blacks and whites alike about any ploy to make race central to this election.
For this contest is too critical to be decided on anything but the issues. The City Too Busy to Hate is fast becoming the City Too Mismanaged to Function .
So let’s look at this memo as an opportunity.
For starters, it should be more difficult now for any candidate to turn the election, even obliquely, into a race about race. That ugly prospect was denounced Thursday in no uncertain terms by Lisa Borders, whom the memo names as the logical “unity” candidate for the black community, and by Kasim Reed, the black candidate closest to her in opinion polls.
Let’s hold them to their lofty words. Race was bound to be a subtext of an election with a rare white front-runner, in a city that has had only black mayors since Jackson broke the color barrier in 1973. Now that it’s been exposed, may it be less potent.
Even more interesting are the “other things” to which I alluded earlier. Quite clear, for example, is that there’s no love lost between the memo’s author(s) and Mayor Shirley Franklin, considered part of the line of Maynard.
The memo also states:
“It is debatable to what extent the objective socio-economic and political position of the African American community has improved” since 1973.
“… Just having a black mayor doesn’t guarantee that African American issues and concerns would be effectively addressed either… . In other words, are we simply providing votes without any expectations of the candidate that would enjoy our support?”
“The changing demographics” in Atlanta — the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the proportion of white city residents has grown by 4.5 percentage points to 37.7 percent since 2000, with the black population declining by a similar amount to 56.8 percent — “requires that we critically evaluate all candidates.”
“To ignore the alienation that exists among black voters towards the Franklin Administration’s performance is naive at best and dishonest at worse [sic].”
“…In 2009 we have arrived at a place in time where we can no longer afford to just look at race in the Mayor’s race or individual [City Council] races.”
Granted, the memo uses the foregoing to argue for a “Black Agenda” for the next mayor. Such a racial lens is divisive and tiresome, to say the least. It may even backfire among black voters who understandably resent being viewed as a monolith that will vote mindlessly for whomever this “leadership forum” backs.
But the agenda hinted at in the memo — which laments “persistent poverty in the city; the educational crisis in the schools; the human security/public safety concerns; the type of economic development policies being pursued; and the city’s awful financial management issues” — is actually color-blind.
These are the problems of both blacks and whites. The candidate, of any color, who understands that and points the way forward is the one for voters, of any color, to rally behind.