By Barney Blakeney
It’s a subject I’ve tried to avoid – the 2019 North Charleston mayoral election. Right now we know at least three people will compete for the seat – incumbent Mayor Keith Summey, community activist Pastor Thomas Dixon and businessman John Singletary. Dixon and Singletary are African Americans in the city where almost half its residents are African American.
Okay, never mind political correctness, the prevailing thought is that the city should have a Black mayor since the predominant ethnic group of residents is Black. Of course nobody’s going to say that outright, but let’s call a spade a spade. I believe that’s the mentality behind the city’s appointing Reggie Burgess its first Black police chief and that’s the premise which has been behind previous efforts to elect a Black mayor.
If North Charleston ever is going to elect a Black mayor, voters better get on the ball – the city’s Black voter strength increasingly is being eroded through manipulative redevelopment and annexation. But that’s another story.
I’ve preferred to keep my mouth shut about the 2019 mayoral election (some say I should continue that trend) because that situation has gone so far afield, no matter what’s said it’s going to rub some people the wrong way. That being said, the first thought that comes to my mind is why are two Blacks running in an election where there’s a strong incumbent who’s proven he can beat the best we can throw at him?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Anybody can run and everybody has the right to run. But politics ain’t checkers. It’s chess. Winning in politics is about strategy and I don’t see an effective strategy in splitting the already weak Black vote in North Charleston.
In a city where some 40,000 are registered to vote, fewer than 10,000 cast ballots in any municipal election. About 51 percent of registered voters are Black while some 38 percent of registered voters are white. Keith Summey has won four elections with less than 7,000 votes each election. Heck you can win a city council seat with less than 500 votes!
I’ve always said voter registration without voter education is pretty much a waste of time. We’ve got all these Black people registered to vote in North Charleston who never bother to go to the polls. They obviously don’t understand the importance of voting. Mind you, white folks don’t vote either, but I’m not talking about white folks. At the end of the day white folks gon’ be okay. Black folks need to understand the relationship between voting and the people making decisions which determine their quality of life.
Watching the socio-political-economic story of North Charleston unfold is like watching a sad movie. More and more I get the feeling the North Charleston story will end much like the City of Charleston story – not good for Black folks. Economic exclusion, high crime rates and redevelopment that ultimately results in displacement predict yet another shift to parts unknown in Berkeley and Dorchester counties.
I watched a recent broadcast of the SCETV program Carolina Business Review which featured Columbia’s first Black Mayor Steve Benjamin. I keep hearing people say Columbia’s Black community is vastly more progressive and prosperous than Charleston’s. I don’t know how much truth there is to that, but if so, there are a number of reasons for it I’m sure.
Anyway, I was listening to Benjamin and thinking about the potential for a Black mayor in North Charleston. Benjamin said you gotta see the big picture. Infrastructure, growth, economic development and inclusion all are parts of a vision for a community, “But you can’t let emotion drive policymaking,” he emphasized!
I thought about the upcoming North Charleston election and the Black candidates wondering if Black voters will get caught up in the emotion of electing a Black mayor without considering what impact the election will have on our community moving into the future. North Charleston is sitting on the edge of the world stage economically. Sure it’s about economic inclusion, but it’s not just about economic inclusion.
North Charleston’s predominantly Black schools are among the worst performing academically in the state. Yesterday I talked to Richard, who is staying with his sister because the rent at his North Charleston apartment has increased from $700 per month to about $1,000. Last year more than half the homicides committed in the county occurred in North Charleston.
Anybody elected mayor of the city must have a vision of the big picture of North Charleston that incorporates holistic inclusion. That’s not true with the city’s current mayor and voters should not allow that to continue with the next mayor.
As Benjamin said, the progress and prosperity of a city isn’t built through emotionalism or racism, but by policies that strategically employ infrastructure, growth and development which engages a booming economy in inclusive ways that lifts all boats. Residents of North Charleston should keep that in mind.