By Barney Blakeney
Through the benevolence of some friends, I’m getting to know some of the presidential hopefuls. I heard Kamala Harris at the Charleston Branch NAACP banquet – Education Committee Chair Stephen Cofer Shabica gave me a ticket and Sunday Pete Buttigieg’s S.C. Political Director Abe Jenkins invited me to a roundtable discussion on healthcare at my old stomping ground, The Spot 47 on Cooper Street downtown.
I really haven’t focused on the Democratic primary campaigns. I didn’t in 2008 and when I looked up, Barack Obama was elected the first Black president of the United States. I know you’ve got to do your homework when it comes to electing people, but there just were so many people running – people I never heard of before. Buttigieg is one of them. So I went to the thing. Glad I did.
I’ve heard some good things about him, but again, I don’t know the guy. One advantage is he’s young. The presidency wears people out. Barack went in with black hair and came out gray. The job’s a lot of pressure. Buttigieg’s had to face some pressure already. I saw a PBS show about his tenure as mayor of South Bend, Ind. Predominantly Black town about 100,000 residents. Charleston has about 120,000 residents. It seems Mayor Pete had some trouble connecting with those black folks. Okay, what white guy doesn’t? But at the end of the day, the show seemed to suggest he is one if those white guys who tries.
The roundtable at The Spot was about healthcare. Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson moderated. There was an array of folks engaged in healthcare attending including Dr. Thad Bell. Most of the folks asked the right questions – how is he going to deal with healthcare coverage for all Americans, how is he going to tackle the racial disparities so inherent in American healthcare as well as the income inequities? Buttigieg responded with his Douglass Plan – The plan focuses on several areas: health care, education, criminal justice, housing and voting rights.
Buttigieg got me with a few thoughts. He said addressing healthcare isn’t all about providing care for the sick; it’s primarily about preventing sickness. The discussion wasn’t superficial. One lady asked about resources to healthcare providers – Black folks have been doing it forever. We couldn’t afford nursing homes. Buttigieg says he’s got a plan to pay relatives who care for their loved ones at home. The guy seems to be thinking outside the box.
And that’s where America must go in the future, outside the box. His plan also outlines some progressive positions the legalization of marijuana, abolishing federal prisons, eliminating the Electoral College and making Washington, D.C., the 51st state. Most impressive I thought his quest to root out systemic racism was on point.
There was a lot of specific discussion – Buttigieg’s plan to develop health equity zones, expanding governmental partnerships and making government funding for Medicaid expansion go directly to communities so state legislatures like South Carolina’s don’t prevent access.
Later on, we went around the corner to Hannibal’s Kitchen. It’s become a popular spot for politicians – rightfully so. It’s Charleston cuisine at its best. Mayor John Tecklenburg was there. He said he met Buttigieg at a mayor’s training conference. Buttigieg was his mentor, Tecklenburg said. He said Buttigieg is a smart guy, that he was the smartest in the room.
Buttigieg’s got some ideas. I asked what were his ideas about Black business inclusion. It’s something he’s focused on, he said. There’s so much to learn about the candidates. Buttigieg is one we should learn more about.