Political Miscellany 11/6/09: Run-off Elections in Atlanta and Houston

Atlanta Mayoral Race Results in Runoff Election

The much watched Atlanta mayoral race is not over yet. Mayoral candidates Mary Norwood and Kasim Reed will go head to head in a run-off election on December 1, after neither gained the 50% of the vote needed to win the election outright on November 3rd.

Norwood, an at-large member of the Atlanta city council, got 45% of the vote. Reed, who is a Georgia state senator, came in second place with 38% of the vote. Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders was third with 14% of the vote in an eight person race.

Atlanta City Councilwoman and Mayoral Candidate Mary Norwood

This election has become notable because of the racial dynamics involved. Norwood is white, and if she wins, she will be the first white mayor of Atlanta in 36 years. The city is roughly 56% African American, 36% white, and 5% Hispanic. Although race is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, Norwood is popular throughout many parts of the city, and is seen as having a good chance of winning the run-off.

Georgia State Senator and Atlanta Mayoral Candidate Kasim Reed

In the November 3rd election, Norwood did very well in the white areas of Atlanta, and had some pockets of black support throughout the city as well. Reed did well in southwest Atlanta and in predominantly black areas of northwest and west Atlanta.

The big questions going into the runoff are, who will the supporters of 3rd place finisher Lisa Borders vote for? And, how many people will come out to vote in December? As reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution,

In 2001, when Shirley Franklin first ran for mayor, 41 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Tuesday, only about 24 percent of registered voters showed up. In many black areas away from Reed’s stronghold in southwest Atlanta, voter turnout was extremely low. At the polling station of the Central United Methodist Church on Mitchell Street on the West Side, only 4.63 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. In many southwest Atlanta precincts, more than 30 percent of registered voters turned out.

Low turnout would probably be least favorable to Reed.

Houston Mayoral Race Run-off

The mayoral race in Houston, Texas, has also resulted in a run-off election, to be held on December 12.

The Houston mayoral race has been notable for the diversity of the candidate pool. The leading candidates going into election day on November 3rd were City Councilman Peter Brown, a white Democrat; Harris county Education Trustee Roy Morales, a Hispanic Republican; City Controller Annise Parker, a Democrat, who is openly gay; and former City Attorney Gene Locke, an African American Democrat.

Several of the candidates in Houston’s November mayoral election: Gene Locke, Roy Morales, Annise Parker, and Peter Brown. Locke and Parker will be in the December run-off election.

Parker and Locke received 31% and 26% of the vote, respectively, and are headed to the runoff.

If Locke wins, he will be Houston’s second African American mayor. If Parker wins, she will be the city’s first openly gay mayor, and the first such mayor of as large a city as Houston.

Political Miscellany @ 11/4/2009: Is the Obama Coalition “Portable” to Other Democratic Races?

Right after Obama’s presidential election win last November, I made this comment:

Here are my own election winners and losers, plus some “too early to tell” entries…

Too Early to Tell:

Black Voters: They were huge this election. Blacks were 13% of the total vote, up from 10% in 2000 and 11% in 2004. That helped make the difference in close elections for several states.

The question is, can they be depended on in future elections? Or will their turnout drop without Obama at the top of election ballots?

I think a lot more work needs to be done to make black voters a dependable election force, in close elections or elections in the South. Because if they’re not a dependable political force, that lessens their power and influence in the long run.

It will be interesting to see how much of the black vote turns out for the Georgia Senate runoff election between Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and his opponent, Democrat Jim Martin. Martin has no hope of winning if black voters stay home; we’ll see if they sit this one out.

In the aforementioned Georgia Senate race, Jim Martin did wind up losing, and low black turnout was a factor.

Yesterday, Republicans won the governor’s election in New Jersey and Virginia. In both cases, the young and black voters who were key to Obama’s election success were not decisive in their support for the Democratic candidate.

Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press made these comments:

In another troubling omen for Democrats, the surveys also showed that more of the Virginians who turned out on Tuesday said they supported Republican John McCain in 2008 than said they backed Obama. That suggests the Democrats had difficulty turning out their base, including the swarms of first-time minority and youth voters whom Obama attracted as part of his diverse coalition.

A loss in Virginia could suggest that the diverse coalition that Obama cobbled together last year in Virginia and elsewhere — blacks, Hispanics, young people, independents and Republican crossovers — was a one-election phenomenon that didn’t transfer to the Democratic Party when Obama wasn’t on the ballot.

I share Sidoti’s concern, although I disagree with her comment that the Obama election win was a one hit wonder in terms of pulling together what I call the “Obama coalition” of young, black, Hispanic and independent voters.

Witness, for example, 38-year old Democrat Anthony Foxx in the Charlotte, North Carolina mayoral election. Voters in the city ended more than two decades of Republican leadership in Charlotte Tuesday by electing Foxx, who is the city’s second African-American mayor and the youngest in memory. Foxx won a close race, getting roughly 51 percent of the vote over Republican John Lassiter in unofficial tallies.

Foxx benefitted from a strong black turnout. African Americans are 35% of Charlotte’s population. The Democrats need to find and promote more candidates like him, who appeal to diverse constituents.

The bottom line is, if the Democrats are going to win “the Obama way,” they need to embrace the kinds of voters that put Obama into office. Failure to do so is perilous. Consider these comments from the Washington Post, concerning the election campaign in Virginia governor’s race:

Senior (Obama) administration officials have expressed frustration with how Democrat R. Creigh Deeds has handled his campaign for governor, refusing early offers of strategic advice and failing to reach out to several key constituencies that helped Obama win Virginia in 2008, they say.

A senior administration official said (Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh) Deeds badly erred on several fronts, including not doing a better job of coordinating with the White House. “I understood in the beginning why there was some reluctance to run all around the state with Barack Obama,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about the race. “You don’t do that in Virginia. But when you consider the African American turnout that they need, and then when you consider as well they’ve got a huge problem with surge voters, younger voters, we were just a natural for them.”

A second administration official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Obama, (outgoing Democratic governor Tim) Kaine and others had drawn a road map to victory in Virginia. Deeds chose another path.”

And it goes without saying that black voters can’t afford to be apathetic or unengaged simply because certain kinds of candidates aren’t running. Not everyone who runs for political office is exciting or charismatic. And sometimes it is about voting for the lesser of two evils. Black folks need to be willing to come out to the polls even in those kinds of situations.

Factoid: Black Male Incarceration Rate is 6 Times Greater Than Rate for White Males

Statistics from the Department of Justice indicate that black males are incarcerated – held in prison or jail – at a rate that is over 6 times higher than that for white males.

For every 100,000 black males, an estimated 4,777 are held in federal or state prison or a local jail.

By contrast, for every 100,000 white men, only 727 are estimated to be incarcerated.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison Inmates at Midyear 2008 – Statistical Tables, March 2009 (Revised 4/8/09), Table 18

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report that’s cited above can be obtained here. If you want to go straight to the PDF version of the report, it’s here.

One result of this high incarceration rate is that the percentage of blacks among all males in prison or jail far exceeds the percentage of blacks in the general population:
Source: Calculated from Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison Inmates at Midyear 2008 – Statistical Tables, March 2009 (Revised 4/8/09); Population stats from US Census Bureau

What explains these numbers? It’s a combination of things: African Americans commit more crimes; they commit more crimes that are likely to result in jail time (as a result of sentencing guidelines that, for example, result in more jail time for crack cocaine than cocaine powder); they are less able to afford high quality legal services; and they may be subject to discrimination in prosecution, the rendering of verdicts, and sentencing.

I will try to look at these issues in future posts.

Who’s Your Daddy? It Wasn’t a Joke in Jim Crow Mississippi.

Segregation in the Jim Crow South was about two things: political and economic power, and sex.

The entire system was designed to keep blacks from power in government and business, and black men from intimacy with white women.

This had obvious negative effects on the South’s black population. African Americans were subjected to harsh, even brutal treatment for doing such simple things as trying to vote. But there were negative impacts on white Southerners as well.

Devils-SactuaryWhite Southerners also had to adhere to the South’s code of behavior, or suffer consequences. This is illustrated in a true story from the book Devil’s Sanctuary: An Eyewitness History of Mississippi Hate Crimes. The book is co-authored by Alex A. Alston, Jr., former president of the Mississippi State Bar Association, and journalist James L. Dickerson.

The book details instances of the horrific oppression of Mississippi blacks by white Mississippians and all aspects of the state’s governmental and social institutions.

One of those governmental institutions was the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, a quasi-independent spy agency created in 1956 to Mississippi against integration efforts by the federal government. The Sovereignty Commission was basically Mississippi’s Big Brother, and had its eyes out for anything that might imperil white supremacy.

This is a poignant and somewhat scary excerpt from the book:

Early in 1956, Mississippi Governor J. P. Coleman sent a bill to the Mississippi legislature to create a super-secret spy agency designed to protect the state from the encroaching power of the federal government. Under the provisions of the bill, the commission was empowered to “perform any and all acts and things deemed necessary to protect the sovereignty of the State of Mississippi, and her sister states, from encroachment.”

The commission was given the authority to examine the records and documents of any citizen and it was provided with broad-ranging subpoena power that included the authority to enforce obedience “by fine or imprisonment” at the discretion of the commission. It was designed to operate independantly of state govenment, when necessary, and permitted to solicit and use private funds to carry out covert operations.

…while taking the oath of office, Coleman had brought attention to the commission by saying, “I have not the slightest fear that four years hence when my successor assumes his official oath that the seperation of races in Mississippi will be left intact.”


When the Sovereignty Commission received word in 1964 that a white woman in Grenada, Mississippi had given birth to a baby of suspicious racial origins, investigator Tom Scarbrough was sent to the small town to conduct an investigation. After touching base with his initial source. who informed him that the 38 year old woman had been having an affair with a 31 year old motel employee who was black, Scarbrough met with the local sheriff, who expressed relief at seeing the investigator in town, since he wasn’t sure what to do about the situation. In his report Scarbrough wrote that the sheriff had told him that the people in Grenada were disturbed about the rumors, all the more since the (woman) and her husband and were from respectable families.

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