Sunday, March 15, 2009

More on Council 2009: Politics and Race

According to the 2000 Census, African-Americans make up nearly 43% of Cincinnati's population. But only 2 of 9 Council members (or 22%) are African-American. Why is there such a disparity? And will the gap narrow in 2009?

The HamCo Republican Party has already announced its slate of endorsed candidates. Of the five GOP candidates, only one, Rev. Charlie Winburn, is African-American. Last week, the Beacon published Tim Burke's response to an inquiry about whether the HamCo Democratic Party's ticket will be racially diverse. Burke wrote, "At least 50% of our City candidates will, almost certainly, be black." Last week, in two separate posts (here and here) Nate Livingston suggests that the Democratic Party isn't leaving itself much space to endorse candidates of color this fall. He also notes that the party has been slow to endorse black candidates; he forgot, though, (or was too kind) to mention in support of his argument regarding the parties' poor treatment of black candidates that in 2007, the Dems reportedly approached one of their endorsed black candidates, Wendell Young, about leaving the race to make room for Roxanne Qualls.

Tim Burke is a lawyer, and we lawyers always have a tendency of talking in a way that makes you wonder if you really know what the meaning of "is" is. He writes that 50% of his party's "City candidates" will be black, not that 50% of the City Council candidates will be black. So, he leaves himself room to include Mayor Mallory as a "City candidate," meaning the party would need to include only 4 African-Americans on its Council slate in order to fulfill his pledge.

Where do we stand now? Historically, the Dems endorse all of their incumbents. So Berding, Cole, Harris, and Thomas will all be endorsed, barring any surprises. As mayor, Mark Mallory's voice carries a lot of weight in the party (much as a sitting president's voice has significant impact in a national party). One would anticipate, then, that Quinlivan and Fischer, already endorsed by Mallory, will be endorsed by the party. And given that Representative Driehaus is a fairly politically astute politican, it'd be surprising if he endorsed a candidate that wasn't headed towards his party's endorsement; that means Nick Hollan would be the party's seventh endorsed candidate.

That calculus means that, if Burke's prediction is to come true, both of the of as-yet-unknown endorsed Democrats will be black. (And this assumes that Qualls won't seek to return to her home in the Democratic party and will instead continue to run with only the Charter Committee's endorsement.) Assuming that leaders in the party have people in mind for these spots, why haven't they had the media rollouts thus far enjoyed by Fischer, Quinlivan, and Hollan?

In a city whose population is nearly 50% black, why does the Democratic party seem to have such a hard time identifying black candidates? This is particularly perplexing given Burke's assertion that 50% of the 220-member Cincinnati Democratic Committee is black. Are black candidates out there and being ignored or snubbed by the party? Does the party need to do a better job of identifying and nurturing black candidates? The HamCo GOP is on a mission to identify viable candidates from the suburbs to take control of county government. Should the HamCo Dems have a similar focus on identifying and supporting black candidates (for either City offices or county offices)?

I generally don't blog on issues of race--not because they're not important or interesting, but because I'm not sure I'm skillful enough to do so in a way that furthers intelligent public discourse. So let's (please!) keep things calm and civil in the comments.

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