Baltimore – Who and what is authentic is a matter of opinion. I have never prescribed to the Hip Hop generation mantra of “keepin it real.” Sorry swag with a bottle Ciroc does nothing for me; accept to prove that old adage “a fool and his money will soon be lost.” So it comes as a curious surprise to me when I was called to opine on the recent dust up between Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Former Mayor John Street.
It’s not the first time accusations on being “Black enough” have been thrown but in the current political climate they say a lot about Black Politics in its evolution. Harold Jackson’s Philadelphia Inquirer article is just the latest this year. What I think it’s missing is the real issue of authenticity.
Authenticity is a commodity Black politicians have used for years. It was a rite of passage. I think pundits have over reached on this “Post Racial Obama Era.” “Don’t believe the Hype.” Voters want reassurance. Last time, I checked minority populations are a majority or close to it in Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC and many others.
This new pandering, where it’s more important to court court white voters in this era, can have devastating consequences, just ask Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Also, trying to be Black at the last minute doesn’t cut it and neither does, “I’ve been Black all my life and ya’ll know me.” (Ask Pat Jessamy in the State’s Attorney Race in Baltimore)
I had a conversation a year ago with Dean Kurt Schmoke of the Howard University Law School. Schmoke is now considered the dean of Black Mayors in the United States (Former Mayor of Baltimore). Schmoke made an observation about urban mayors.
“They court white voters at their peril. While some Black voters identify with race when voting, white voters are making a judgment decision as to whether you are competent and have the ‘intelligence’ to handle the job. After your first election you will never be able to obtain the level of white support following your first campaign.”
If politics have taught us anything solidifying your base is curial to any election. “Dance with the people who brought you to the dance.” Running against the system is easy. Challengers can point out problems and express what expectations will be in the future. Once in office every ill is laid at your door step.
Philadelphia like many urban centers has seen an influx of the majority population back into these cities and a rise in Latino voters who’ve not yet flexed their voting muscle(but they are coming). There are several strategies to tackle this issue.
1. You make an assumption these voters are less likely to vote for you and will likely look for an alternative.
2. Use this group to point out uncertainty with a challenger.
3. Don’t alienate your base to chase voters who can neither put you over the top nor provide a margin of victor because they will be siphon off by so call “also ran candidates.”
4. Urban centers are less about media campaigns but rather retail politics (shake hands, be prepared to engage people even if they won’t vote you – be prepared for them to say, “I don’t agree with what he did but at least he/she heard me out.”(Ask Charlie Rangel in New York)
Is it about old school versus new school politics? No it’s about connecting. Show what you stand for; is it about schools talk about the successes, is it about crime talk about successes, if it’s about economic development, talk about successes and don’t be afraid to talk about economic empowerment of communities of color (is this so taboo these days).
What some Black Politicians have failed to do is play by the rules in place now. So what are these new rules? Early voting (let’s mobilize before Election Day because people in the other party are). Absentee ballots allows for an apathetic electorate to vote when you meet them (Trust me the other side has known this for a long time). Search for votes in rich vote territories (leave “Pookie and dem” behind – look for neighborhoods where people own their own homes, search for senior centers, read the readouts from last election).
I received a heads up on the Nutter v. Street quote. I believe the citizens of Philadelphia would love to see these politicians slug it out in front of the Rocky Statue. But that’s not what this is about. It may make for a media spectacle, but not for raw politics.
Here’s a suggestion, Nutter shouldn’t take this personally but use it politically. Like Booker in Newark his challenger represented the past. The future for Nutter can’t just look like areas around U Penn. But is it to late. The constant question I think a lot of politicians miss is the question voters are asking, “What’s in it for me.” You must be able to answer this question because your base is asking for solutions and you have to deliver. If you don’t, “see ya!”