Democrats Re-Up with Pivotal Mayoral Elections in Black Cities
Re-election of black mayors in these cities are positive signs for 2012
Though an off-year for elections, Democrats had plenty to smile about yesterday. In Mississippi, the anti-abortion "personhood" amendment was fought back, as was the anti-labor union efforts in Ohio. And there was much to sigh about when Russell Pearce, the guy responsible for the far-reaching, immigration-restricting suite of laws passing in Arizona, Alabama and pending across the South, was voted out of office. Unfortunately Johnny Dupree was denied the opportunity to be the first black governor of Mississippi, and suppressive voter ID laws were passed in Mississippi as well, but elsewhere across the country there were glimmering signs of hope, especially in local mayoral races where African American, Democrat mayors held onto seats to help steer the progressive agenda. But what do the races say at the local level, especially in terms of voter turnout, Republican backlash and how black communities are actually being helped? Below are five mayoral races in major black cities yesterday with answers for all of those questions:
City: Gary, Indiana
Black population: 68,107 (total pop: 80,294)
Winner: Karen Freeman-Wilson
What the election says: Gary elected the first black woman mayor in Indiana after she survived a primary of ten other Democrats. It looks like Gary is looking for significant change.
Voter turnout: 11,465 people came out to vote for Freeman-Wilson. Her challenger, Republican Charles R. Smith: 384 votes. It was no contest. Total turnout won’t be available for another couple weeks, but considering the voting age population is 57,762 turnout may have been around 20%.
Summary: Gary is popularly known as the birthplace of Michael Jackson, but it’s known more notoriously as a city that lives with perennial poverty, extreme poverty even. Freeman-Wilson, who lost two previous bids for mayor, is a lawyer and former attorney general for the state who’s looking to turn around the blight and crime paving the city primarily through using the “broken windows” law enforcement method.
Nod to black community: Founded the Second Chance Program, which would help nonviolent drug offenders find treatment instead of throwing them in jail.
Black population: 395,781 (total pop: 620,961)
Winner: Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
What the election says: Not much. This will be Rawlings-Blake’s first full term after taking over for the former mayor Sheila Dixon who resigned under a cloud of corruption.
Voter turnout: Rawlings-Blake took in roughly 38,000 votes against her Republican challenger who got less than 6,000 votes. Those are miserably low numbers for the city.
Summary: The former Baltimore city council president took office after former mayor Dixon had to resign in shame over stealing gift cards that were supposed to go to low-income residents. Now formally and officially elected, Rawlings-Blake is inheriting a mayor’s office that has a perception problem, and a city that is still suffering from a lot of the same problems exhibited on HBO’s TV drama “The Wire”: blight, crime and poverty. The city is actually doing better than it was ten years ago, the time setting for “The Wire,” but residents have yet to internalize that.
Non-Nod to black community: Rawlings-Blake neglected to respond to the African-American newspaper “The AFRO” in their endorsement questionnaire. She was the first sitting mayor in the history of the city to do so. In return, the newspaper endorsed her challenger state senator Catherine E. Pugh.
Black population: 256,241 (total pop: 731,424)
Winner: Anthony Foxx was re-elected
What the election says: A lot! Given Charlotte will be the host for the Democratic National Convention next year, it was important that the city came out heavily in favor of Democrats, which they did. Not only did Foxx trounce his Republican challenger Scott Stone 67% to 32%, but Dems came up big in city council and at-large seats as well.
Voter turnout: Just over 16% of registered voters came out in Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is the seat. 56,126 came out to vote for Foxx compared to 26,958 for his opponent.
Summary: We all know that Charlotte is the headquarters for Bank of America, the bank we all love to hate right now. They’ve laid off people in droves -- many of them if not most African Americans -- and they’ve flirted with raising bank fees on customers. But Foxx is focusing on the energy sector, not the finance sector for job growth, and also expanding light rail and streetcar lines so that transportation inequity does not prevail. With the political capital he just earned from his election and the election of his Democratic colleagues in city council -- and the school board -- he has made many in the Democratic Party, and the Obama campaign, feel good about their chances there in 2012.
Nod to the black community: Was able to capitalize off of Microsoft’s pledge to bring digital technology access to low-income youth through the computer company’s Shape the Future program. Charlotte is among the first cities to participate.
Black population: 661,839 (total pop: 1,526,006)
Winner: Michael Nutter was re-elected
What the election says: Republican challenger Karen Brown managed to grab over 21% of the vote. Nutter was expected to win, but a Republican like Brown was not supposed to get such a huge percent of the city’s electorate. Something for Nutter to watch for in the next one.
Voter turnout: Less than 20%, pretty lousy
Summary: Nutter is the third African-American mayor of Philadelphia. He’s also one of that significant contingent of African American local officials who campaigned for Hillary Clinton when she ran against Obama. While this election was mostly a breeze, there are already at least five people waiting in the cut to unseat him in 2015, including two city councilmen-at-large, a state senator, a district attorney and the city controller. Philadelphia is under fire right now with the NAACP as the civil rights organization is suing the city because its airport won’t run a billboard that draws attention to the nation’s excessive prison population. Nutter isn’t commenting on it, but that didn’t stop the black Philadelphia Tribune newspaper from saying that he “deserved to” win.
Nod to black community: Re-established the Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males to help find solutions for issues of health, wealth and education disparities among black men.
Black population: 498,466 (total pop: 2,099,451)
Winner: Annise D. Parker (seen here with rapper and Houston native Bun B)
What the election says: Parker squeaked by just missing a runoff in an election that featured challengers with no funding or name recognition. That doesn’t bode well for her in the next election.
Voter turnout: Just 13% of city's registered voters voted; shameful.
Summary: If you saw Spike Lee’s Katrina documentary “If God is Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise,” then you’ll recognize Annise D. Parker as the Houston mayor who absorbed a number of New Orleans families after the city flooded. Parker was also the first openly gay person elected mayor of a major U.S. city. Despite that, things weren’t looking up before the election. A poll taken a month before the elections showed she had the lowest approval rating of any Houston mayor in decades -- only 37% said they would vote for her. The message sent to other challengers and parties is that unless the city scores major turnarounds, the next election would only require a well financed challenger to possibly unseat her.
Nod to the black community: Parker came out in opposition to the proposed Texas vanity plates that would commemorate the Confederate flag.