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Voting while black: Lessons from Hillary

Voting while black: Lessons from Hillary

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In what is probably the biggest non-surprise in electoral politics this year, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced that she’s throwing her hat in the ring for her husband Bill’s old job, President of the United States.

This isn’t her first time at this particular rodeo. For all intents and purposes, the 2008 Democratic Nomination was hers to lose…which she immediately proceeded to do for a variety of reasons.

One reason was, well, her husband is Bill Clinton. Or as I like to call him, He Who Is The Center Of The Universe.

Another reason? She was unprepared. When she failed to execute her original plan—a Super Tuesday beat down that would knock out her main rival, Sen. Barack Obama—she didn’t have a good Plan B.

However, she had a lot of really bad Plan B’s. I was reminded of one of those bad plans when a group of black politicos from Philadelphia’s Northwest section decided to endorse former City Councilman Jim Kenney, who is white, over State Sen. Anthony Williams, who is black.

Hillary, Philly, and racial politics

Before the Pennsylvania and Indiana primaries, Hillary, with the backing of one of her top supporters, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, said that Obama shouldn’t be the Democratic nominee because, well, he was too black. Or to be exact, that hard working, working class whites wouldn’t vote for him.

Black politicians here in Philadelphia, some of whom should expect a call from Hillary now that she’s taking another shot at the really, really big chair, were the first to denounce her contention that the White House isn’t quite ready for a non-white family.

So the fact that so many of them are now basically saying the same thing to the Northwest politicos, only the colors are in reverse, kind of makes me scratch my head a little.

Because like every broken clock I’m right twice a day, I kinda knew that Kenney was probably going to get the endorsement of City Councilwoman Marian Tasco because of how glowingly she talked about her council colleague when he resigned to run for mayor.

But I didn’t see State Reps. Dwight Evans and Cherelle Parker, and fellow City Councilwomen Cindy Bass joining her in that endorsement.

In fact a lot of people didn’t. When I started to hear the grumblings about the endorsement last Sunday, the most commonly leveled charge against this group was that they had forgotten where they came from. In fact, another group of Northwest endorsers planned a press conference to counter it this week.

(Don’t you just love the fairly personal nature of Black Philadelphia Politics? I know I do…)

When past and present politics collide

“I’m sure that people like Bill Gray and David Richardson who helped get these black elected officials a seat at the table are turning over in their graves because they’re voluntarily giving up their seat at that table,” said George Burrell, a former City Councilman and mayoral candidate.

(Now keep Burrell’s comment in mind, because we’ll be coming back to it.)

Meanwhile, Williams wrote the endorsement off as politics and said, basically, why isn’t anyone talking about the endorsements I’m getting from white groups in the Northeast?

He’s got a point. Political science journals abound with studies that show that white voters are less likely to vote for Black candidates. For Williams to get support from areas that are more commonly associated with candidates like Kenney and former District Attorney Lynne Abraham is significant.

But let’s go back to Burrell’s statement for a moment because there’s a whole lot to unpack there.

One, if I thought that Burrell and company were upset with the Northwest Politicos because they felt that T. Milton Street and Doug Oliver, the other two Blacks running for Mayor, were being slighted as well, I might be shaking my head a lot less.

Two, if Kenney or Abraham had said a version of what Burrell said on 6ABC’s “Inside Story”, which is where Burrell made his statement, it would be a repeat of the reaction to Hillary Clinton’s “The Candidate for White America” contention.

And three, I really don’t get what Burrell is talking about when he talks about people giving up their seats at the table.

Why? Because if we’re honest with ourselves, what Burrell said shows that he hasn’t been paying attention.

The racial leadership tally

A few years back, when he was Mayor of Philadelphia, John Street got into a little bit of trouble when he proclaimed that “The brothers and sisters are running this city” to an audience gathered for the National NAACP convention here.

While there were folks out there that were mad that he said that, he wasn’t incorrect. Philadelphia’s last three mayors (Street, W. Wilson Goode, and current Mayor Michael Nutter) were black. We haven’t had a white Superintendent of Schools since Tom Brady, and he was only there as a placeholder between former Superintendents Paul Vallas and Arlene Ackerman.

I can’t remember the last white police commissioner Philadelphia’s had. Three of the last four City Council Presidents have been black. And when we look at the delegation we send to Harrisburg to represent us, it’s filled with blacks too.

Not only are blacks at the table, they’re at the head of the table.

But what has Philadelphia’s black community really gotten out of all of that access?

It depends on whom you ask.

Does voting by race work?

When I first moved to Philadelphia in 2000, I was able to get a cute loft apartment in Northern Liberties for $575 a month. Now, I’d be willing to bet that same apartment costs you double. If you’re black and happen to be one of the folks who make up the city’s 26.3 percent poverty rate, you’re probably giving George Burrell the side eye as well.

And then you have the School District of Philadelphia.

When it comes to the School District, the group of blacks that make up most of the Philadelphia delegation to the Pennsylvania Legislature stood there with blank expressions on their faces as they played their fiddles and watched the District burn.

And because injury feels lonely when it’s buddy insult goes unaccompanied, this same group of people then proceeded to hand the remains of the battered district to the group of sociopathic 4-year-olds that currently runs things in Harrisburg to dip into a septic tank just for fun. But that’s okay. The for-profit, private education folks that are Friends of Anthony (Williams) or Friends of Dwight (Evans) got their 30 pieces of silver…so all is well, right?

The point that I’m trying to make here is that it might be time that black Philadelphians start to live by the motto: “We have no permanent friends or permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.”

Because let’s keep it real…voting by color alone doesn’t seemed to have helped us a whole lot.

Photo: Hillary Clinton in Hampton, NH. Mark Nozell / Flickr Creative Commons

denise clay 2Denise Clay is a veteran journalist, a former adjunct professor, and an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists. She is a regular contributor to Click here to learn more about Denise.