|Mayor-elect of an 83 percent black city...|
For the first time in 40 years, predominantly black Detroit elected a white person as mayor.
Community leaders, political observers and voters provided a number of theories on how that happened. But among them was a theme: The election was about much more than skin color, even in a region where race has been a foremost issue for decades.
They said Mike Duggan beat Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon in the city whose population is 82% African American because of a more organized, better-financed campaign. Others sensed desperation among voters — a thirst for change in a broken city that led to a measuring of the whole candidate against the other.
“Voters tend to vote more out of pragmatism than symbolism,” said Kenneth Cooper, a Boston political journalist who has researched how black mayors are elected in cities of varying minority populations. “What will work best for the city?
Who will work best for the city? There’s no guarantee that a black majority will elect a black candidate. Black voters do not reflexively vote for black candidates. It’s not automatic.”
Frustrations in the city
The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP and a Napoleon supporter, said he feels residents have been beaten down with negativity over the city’s bankruptcy petition, an emergency manager appointed by the governor to call most of the shots at city hall, and public fallout from the failed Kwame Kilpatrick administration.
“It has made many people feel as though we, meaning the African-American population of this community, cannot lead, cannot do this,” he said. “I think people are frustrated with the way the city is. They are frustrated with the lack of services. They are frustrated with what they have been reading and hearing. ... They’re affected by it; they are responding to it.”
|Before the 'Great Migration' of blacks, Gary was the "City of the Century"; elected in 1995, Scott King couldn't save the city from its majority population (85 percent black)|
This grim, gray steel town at the base of Lake Michigan made history in the racial firmament of the 1960s: It became one of the first major American cities to elect a black mayor.
On Tuesday, Gary, whose population is more than 85 percent African American, may make history again. This time, the leading candidate in this heavily Democratic town, former prosecutor Scott King, is white.
And several black officials are doing everything they can to make sure King doesn't become the first white mayor here in 27 years.
In a letter that has raised the ire of both blacks and whites here and has become the latest chapter in the continuing national debate over race in politics, the outgoing mayor, Democrat Thomas V. Barnes, has urged his supporters to jump parties and vote for independent black candidate Marion Williams because King is white.
"You know the story: African Americans who managed major American cities such as Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles during the mass business and population abandonment of the '70s and '80s have now been replaced, one by one," Barnes wrote.
"While African Americans have always been the first to acknowledge and reward the positive role and involvement of all people, regrettably in this instance, Mr. Williams' main challenger, who is a Caucasian, has no record of contribution to Gary."
Barnes' letter was followed by an endorsement of Williams this week by the Calumet Township assessor, Booker Blumenberg Jr., who in a statement said: ''Race does matter . . . the history of the state of Indiana is a history of excluding African Americans from (public) office."
In his office yesterday, Barnes said that race was an important consideration in the election. He said he backed Williams because he was the best qualified and because he was black; he dismissed King as unqualified and said the election had important symbolism in Indiana.
"If you don't have an African American mayor in Gary, you wouldn't have one (anywhere else) . . . in this state," he said.
Whether race should be a factor at all was being debated here all week.
"His skin can be red, it can be blue. It doesn't matter as long as he can do the job," said Clifford Handspur, a retired welder who was stuffing envelopes at King's campaign headquarters yesterday.
But former City Councilman Vernon Smith said he was concerned that King was ahead: "It sends a message to our young people that we can't lead our city."
Smith, the former city councilman here, said he senses that frustration among many African Americans in Gary.
"I think some people felt if we changed to a different ethnic group, services would improve," he said.
This month 15,000 copies of a glamorous brochure entitled simply``Gary!`` will be mailed to companies across the nation and around the world.
That these brochures describe Gary, Ind., may come as a surprise to those who have even an inkling of Gary`s distinctly unglamorous reputation.
``We`re a city with a future, make no mistake,`` begins the brochure, part of an ambitious campaign by the city to lure new business.
``. . . A city of rich diversity, from the natural beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline to the downtown business district and the massive industrial complexes,`` proclaims a second brochure, to be mailed to those who express interest.
The reality of downtown Gary fits uneasily with these claims. Its streets, eerily deserted and scattered with debris, paint a grim picture of urban blight. Its houses and stores are shuttered, abandoned and burned. The brochures boast just one photograph of the ``business district,`` carefully angled to show both the Wendy`s fast-food restaurant and Walgreens-Gary`s only famous-name retailers.
But Gary is confident that its worst days are over and the best are yet to come. ``You have to look at Gary with the correct idea-that Gary is an easel on which is to be painted one of the great success stories of the 20th Century,`` explained Don Sullivan, spokesman for the Gary Business Development Commission.