By Barney Blakeney
Out of the blue recently I got a call from a friend telling me he agreed with a recent column I wrote about North Charleston municipal elections. That was a breath of fresh air. The column was about the need for change in North Charleston. I welcome both compliments and complaints. They let me know whether I’m on the right track. The premise I tried to express in that column was there likely will be little change in the socio-economic status quo in North Charleston if voters aren’t on point for the November 5 municipal elections.
The potential for change is great, but voters tend to stick with the status quo when voting for candidates. People vote for those they know, even if only in name. Years ago I worked for the campaign of a young up and coming guy who I felt could really make a difference. The guy wasn’t the perfect candidate, but he is smart, aggressive and politically well connected. I figured he was intelligent enough, committed enough and knowledgeable enough to do an unprecedented good job.
But his opponent had greater name recognition. The opponent had been an incumbent a long time. And he had studied my favorite elected official, Robert Ford’s media savvy. I cut my media teeth in the political arena watching Robert Ford. Robert knew how to use the media. But he wasn’t just media hype. I saw Ford do some things on Charleston City Council that changed this city more progressively than perhaps at any other time in its history. Ford did stuff in the 1970s and 1980s most today take for granted.
He pushed for Black community inclusion in the Riley administration’s aggressive annexation program. As annexation moved West Ashley, Black communities were excluded in the donut holes that were created. Ford and others brought in the Justice Department. Ultimately Ashleyville/Maryville, Ardmore, Orleans Woods and other Black communities were annexed into the city. Ford faced a 50-year jail sentence for those efforts. He got through that and later won a seat in the state senate. There he successfully pushed for a Martin L. King Jr. holiday.
Charleston would not be the city it is today had it not been for Robert Ford. Was he a perfect politician? No. But he was damn good and the Black community benefitted from his representation. That’s what I believe!
Name recognition is everything in political campaigns. That’s why candidates spend enormous amounts of money putting their names out there. Voters become familiar with the candidate’s name rather than their record. Consequently we re-elect the same ole do-nothing representatives time and time again. That may work for some constituents, but it doesn’t work for most of us. And it ain’t just a Black thing. White constituents are gettin’ screwed over as well. White constituents are in better shape however. White folks enjoy the highest standard of living in our community.
North Charleston voters must be on point this election cycle. Five candidates are running for mayor. Representatives in all 10 city council districts will be elected. In districts 1 and 2 the incumbents have no challengers on the ballot. In District 3 there are three challengers; in District 4 there are two candidates; in District 5 there are three candidates; in District 6 there are two candidates; in District 7 there are four candidates; in District 8 there are three candidates; in District 9 there are two candidates; and in District 10 there are two candidates.
Charleston elections are just as crowded. Six candidates are vying for mayor; two for Council District 1; five for Council District 3; two for Council District 5; two for Council District 7; three for Council District 9; and two for Council District 11.
In America every citizen has the right to seek public office. But the reality is every citizen isn’t able to run for public office. Money perhaps is the single most deciding factor. But a number of other factors determine who runs and who can be successful. Modern American politics is a classic example of a corrupted democracy.
I was listening to television comedy show Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che recently who said we’ve had four years to prepare for the presidential election yet the process is so dysfunctional, we may end up with the same corrupt administration. That made me think about our local elections. Why have we failed to prepare to elect public officials who can change the status quo? Our failure to adequately prepare likely will result in perpetuating the dysfunction we have currently.
That means grave consequences for residents of North Charleston, especially Black residents. Crime in North Charleston’s Black communities is among the highest in the country. In a city where the local economy is moving upward through the roof, Black communities still suffer extreme poverty. Some of the state’s lowest performing public schools serve North Charleston’s Black students.
But all is not lost. Voters still have until November 5 to determine which candidates will most improve their quality of life. Don’t ask me. I don’t know. You must do your own homework. And it’s a daunting task. You got people coming out of the woodwork running for office in North Charleston. And you know what those who have been there have done.
But as Che said, it all comes down to preparation. Voters must prepare to elect good representation in November then prepare to elect good representation in subsequent elections. Whether in Charleston or North Charleston, I think the most important question voters should ask about a candidate is whether that candidate can do the job we need done. And if the pickin’s are slim now, we need to get to work preparing the next round of candidates.