by Elinor Tatum
If you look at any election in the past 50 years, you will notice one thing—that the Black vote counts. But when you look at the way politicians look at the Black vote, you may see a very different picture.
The Black community has power, and when we get passionate about an issue, we come out in full force. But when we are neglected, we may very well sit an election out.
The Black vote often has been taken for granted, especially by the Democratic Party. Many that sit at the tables of power believe that Black folks have to vote for the Democrat because we have no other choice. But the fact is, we do. We can sit it out, or better yet, run our own candidates. We do have choices, and the Democrats and Republicans better start to understand that leaving us out of the conversation is a great recipe for a party’s demise.
We will not be overlooked or marginalized. We will not be relegated to the sidelines. We will be active participants in our democracy—and that means that you either have us at the table or the other side of the isle, your choice.
If you look at the June 8 primary in Arkansas, who was Blanche Lincoln standing with on stage? She was standing with her supporters, a striking number of whom were Black. She stood there proudly because all the naysayers who said that she could not compete in a primary with labor pouring $10 million into her opponent’s coffers. But with the help of people of color, she was able to “come from behind” and win a primary most said was impossible. It was the Black vote that helped her push through.
But White commentators were loathe to give those vital Black voters credit. Instead, they gave the credit for her victory to Bill Clinton, who had campaigned for Lincoln in the final days of the contest. And while it is true that the former president still holds sway in his former state, no one political can pull it out for a candidate—Lincoln needed a strong showing of African-American voters to really stand a chance.
This is not the the first time that a southern politician has won on the backs of Black voters. Mary Landrieu, senator from neighboring Louisiana, won her 2001 senatorial election because she received overwhelming Black support from the residents of New Orleans. Landrieu was honest enough to admit at the time that she owed her victory to Black support.
And such victories for candidates are not simply a Southern phenomenon. In the 2001 mayoral election in New York City, it was the Black voters who came together behind businessman Michael Bloomberg against Mark Green, the Democratic candidate, to see that Bloomberg won. It was not necessarily because our community loved Bloomberg, but they believed that there would be a seat at the table for them, while they knew Green would leave the Black community in the dust.
The Black vote made Bloomberg’s mayoralty a possibility.
We found the first two Bloomberg administrations to be a vast improvement over the fascist Giuliani years in which Black and Latino residents were either ignored or faced open hostility, but, of course, Bloomberg forgot that this was a democracy and decided he could buy a third term. Of course, Black and Hispanic voters saw beyond Bloomberg’s hubris and nearly delivered defeat, despite billionaire Mike’s $100 million buying of the election.
And there have been other examples in New Jersey and Virginia where politicians have forgotten how vital Black votes are to their elected fortunes. In New Jersey, Jon Cortzine ran a campaign that failed to energize the Black communities that had first elected him and were his strongest supporters. Without a particularly strong showing in Newark, Patterson and other predominately Black communities, he was toast. And R. Creigh Deeds went down to crushing defeat to Robert F. McDonnell because Deeds not only ignored Black voters, but wound up running a campaign that was openly hostile to Black Virginians.
Today in this country, the Black community is not monolithic, but at the same time, it still believes in certain tenants of community. For politicians to think that they can do it without us—especially in places like New York, Chicago and other cities and states where we have substantial concentrations—is absurd. Politicians of all colors and ethnicities need our support, and the only way they are going to get it in this day and age is if they truly go after it. A visit to a few churches is not going to cut it. We need a real commitment and a seat at the table. Until then, our vote is up for grabs.
(Elinor Tatum is publisher and editor-in-chief for the New York Amsterdam News.)