By Barney Blakeney
A friend recently asked what I think about the upcoming Charleston municipal elections. I don’t think about it much! Man, Charleston’s municipal elections ain’t until November 5. I don’t think that far ahead.
That’s the first thought that comes to my mind, but it’s not true. The real deal is I constantly think about the upcoming elections in both Charleston and North Charleston. And it’s never too early to think about elections. But although I’m a City of Charleston resident, I’m really more concerned about the outcome of municipal elections in North Charleston. I think that’s where the greatest potential for Black power lies. In my mind, when it comes to Black power and the City of Charleston, that horse has left the barn.
Politics, and consequently the elections that select its players, is all about power. Black folks in Charleston ain’t got no power. When we had the power we didn’t use it. Now we down to 25-27 percent of the population. Minorities only control stuff if they white. White folks got the numbers and they got the money. All Black folks in Charleston can do is hold on and go along for the ride. Okay, so that’s gonna tick off some pseudo Black power advocates. Ask me if I care.
If you’re really about Black Power, take that fight to the real battle ground – North Charleston. That’s where Black folks have the most potential to gain serious political, and thus a power, foothold. At least, that’s what I see. Don’t mean Black folks in Charleston should give up. Just means they must be smart!
I often fight with myself. I’m smart enough to know that I don’t know everything. I all the time get accused of being a know-it-all. Trust me, I ain’t that dumb. Nobody knows it all. A man who thinks he knows it all and can’t learn anything new or different is a fool. Irene didn’t raise no fool! But I know what I know.
Someone recently told me I should do an interview with former Charleston City Councilman Kwadjo Campbell. Can’t remember right now who it was, but the guy was saying he’d be interested in hearing what Campbell now thinks about the city he left as somewhat of an outcast because of his advocacy for Charleston’s Black community.
Campbell stood pretty much alone as he advocated for some concessions to Blacks who prior to 2000 were the predominant, but low income residents of the peninsula Eastside. Remember Campbell challenged development of that section of Meeting Street between Line and Mary streets advocating that developers mitigate the development’s impact on those residents. The political power brokers tried to lock Campbell up, manipulated him off council and eventually ran him out of town. Those of us who know Charleston have seen how that area has changed since 2000. Need I say it ain’t been pretty for Black folks.
Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley’s 40-year political administration took Black blight after white flight and restructured it into an exuberant taste of southern comfort devoid of Black people. Even white people ask, ‘Where all the Black people at in Charleston?”
It is totally incomprehensible for me to think that a man as brilliant as Joe Riley couldn’t figure out that his redevelopment of the city would displace Black people. As much as I like Lil Joe, I gotta think the city we have today was in his plan. And to add insult to injury, that same plan is being implemented in North Charleston just as it is being taught to another generation of usurpers in Joe Riley’s Charleston Politics 101 class at The Citadel.
So what do I think about the upcoming Charleston municipal elections? Right now six people have said they will compete for the mayor’s office. What Black people need to do is figure out how that’s going to work in our favor. Black folks don’t have the voting strength to independently elect the mayor, but with more than 20 percent of the voting power, Black folks damn sure can influence who is elected!
Already the game is on to dilute Black voting strength. Some of the candidates don’t even care about the Black vote. To them the Black vote doesn’t matter. The smart cookies in the race will try to get as big a slice of that voting bloc as possible. And the really smart ones will try to neutralize the black vote through the tried and true method of divide and conquer. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey masterfully uses that tactic. But if Black folks are on top of the game, we’ll act more cohesively. Never mind that disempowering crap about Black folks not being monolithic – every successful group acts collectively for the benefit of the group.
And just like the American government ain’t just about President Donald Trump (yes I use the title – Black folks got mad when white folks refused to use the title in reference to President Barack Obama. That’s Trump’s title whether we like it or not) the supporting cast is where the real power lies. Charleston will elect six of its 12 council members and mayor. North Charleston will elect all 10 council members and mayor.
In Charleston two African Americans are up for re-election. In the past that may have meant something. It was a hard fought battle to win single member district voting in Charleston. Former councilman and state senator Robert Ford was obsessed in making that happen. But single member district voting as a power tool for the Black community may be obsolete. The power brokers got hip to the skip and dispersed Black folks so widely it yields little political clout. Remember, politics is a numbers game and single member districts don’t yield great numbers to Black folks. Heck, even with the numbers we still get screwed because of the knuckleheads we elect.
So what do I think about the upcoming elections? I think Black folks need to do some homework over the next few months. We’ll know who’s pumpin’ and who’s fakin’ when candidate filing opens in both cities August 5. That’s when Black folks should align with whoever will bring the most beef to our tables – Black or white! That’s what I think about the upcoming elections.
This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle.