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Dist. 42 Results - A Closer Look
8/21/2013 12:18:37 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

Last week’s Aug. 13 Democratic primary election proved quite a surprise. In an election that perhaps generated more interest than any other among Black candidates in recent memory, fewer than 5,000 voters cast ballots. I’d expected that the voter turnout would be much higher. 

There are some 62,000 eligible voters in S.C. Senate District 42. Only about eight percent, some 4,700 voters, cast ballots in the Democratic primary that presumably will decide who represents the district after the Oct. 1 special election to fill former Sen. Robert Ford’s seat. 

Marlon Kimpson and Maurice Washington will face off in the Aug. 27 run off to see who becomes the Democratic nominee. 

The district is 65 percent Black, which translates into being strongly Democrat. That’s unfortunate in itself, but that also is another story for another time. 

Ford held the seat about 20 years and built a political stronghold that proved unconquerable before he was toppled by charges of ethics violations. Ford’s capitulation left the door open for a handful of brave souls who saw a realistic opportunity to win the senate seat for the first time in two decades. Two of those candidates, Margaret Rush and Maurice Washington, unsuccessfully had tried to unseat Ford before. 

Rush and Washington joined four other Democrats in seeking the seat. Political neophytes Emmanuel Ferguson, Herbert S. Fielding, Marlon Kimpson and Bob Thompson rounded out he field of six likely candidates. 

Even before the candidates filed, the election promised to be exciting. There was a lot of jockying for positions. Two sitting legislators, Wendell Gilliard and J. Seth Whipper, expressed interest in the seat. Whipper elected to stay out of the fray. Gilliard was less sensible. Not only did he get in the fray, he hired himself out as a paid consultant for Kimpson. 

That probably was a bad move on a lot of different levels. And depending on who you talk to, Gilliard may have made a mistake. Whatever, his move was legal. I say being legal ain’t always right. 

Robert Ford also jumped in the fray endorsing Washington. That was surprising since Ford still is under investigation for ethics violations and could be charged criminally.

With Ford endorsing Washington and Gilliard who has been Ford’s political protege the past four years endorsing Kimpson, a whole other element was added to an already interesting election. The election took on an energy seldom seen locally among Black candidates. 

That there were six capable candidates vying for a seat in a majority Black district is pretty much unprecedented. The last time something like that happened was about eight years ago when five Blacks ran for the North Charleston City Council Dist. 10 seat after Mrs. Gussie Greene stepped down. 

For the most part, winning a seat in a majority Black district is tantamount to a lifetime appointment. Sitting Black politicians rarely have any opposition. And when you get Black folks in office who don’t challenge the status quo, the powers that be make sure they stay in office through gerrymandering. 

Only two Blacks have served in a Charleston state senate seat in more than 100 years - Herbert U. Fielding and Robert Ford. Former Sen. McKinley Washington and current Sen. Clementa Pinckney have been the only Blacks to serve as sea island state senators in the same amount of time. 

The district 42 race is an important election. It will shape the political landscape at least through 2020. I figured local Black voters realized that. The discussions that were being held in the Black community about the election indicated Black voters were tuned into what was happening. 

But last week’s voter turnout reveals that local Black voters still haven’t got a clue. The discussions were heated, folks asked for information and chose sides. But when it came time to go out and vote, Black folks stayed at home and ordered Chinese food. 

Two o’clock in the afternoon as I was checking out the polls at Sanders-Clyde Elementary School on the Eastside that is located smack dab in the middle of Cooper River Court public housing complex, I watched the Chinese food delivery man park his car in the middle of the street before taking an order to an apartment. 

Now I don’t have anything against people in the projects. I grew up in Cooper River Court. But a total of 91 people voted at the school where three precinct polls were located. I think the Chinese delivery man was just symbolic of the priority Black voters placed on last week’s election. The same distressing priority was demonstrated by Black voters in more affluent communities West Ashley and in North Charleston. 

Last week’s election was an example of a disturbing voting pattern among Black folks. Despite all the sacrifices our people made to secure our right to vote, Black folks today barely exercise that right.

Don’t get me wrong, white folks don’t vote either, but Black folks can’t follow white folks. White folks rule the world!

A friend called me after the election to give his take on what happened. Black folks don’t see the importance of voting because they don’t see how voting improves the quality of their lives, he said.

I’ve heard that argument before and I guess I understand where those who make it are coming from. I’ve always thought that Black organizations spend a lot of time registering people to vote, but not enough time educating people about voting. Not only should we tell people it’s important that they vote, we also should tell them why it’s important that they vote.

Talking to one of the poll workers at Sanders-Clyde the other day, the lady said the low voter turnout was typical for special elections. Black folks need to understand that every election is a special election.

The people elected to serve in public offices are the people who make the rules in our society. That’s why Black folks were denied the right to vote for so long. The power to choose who makes the rules is ultimate power.

Right now Black folks still have a considerable amount of political power. But there is a systematic effort to erode that power base. Black majority districts soon will be a thing of the past as Black communities are dispersed among larger communities. It is vitally important that we elect people - black and white - who will make rules that protect our right to a better quality of life. That can only happen if we participate in every election.

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