For Black Politicians: When Knowing How to Hold ‘em is Not Enough
New York State has a historic track record with the caliber of Black politicians it has launched onto the national platform.
With congressional dynamos including the late Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Rev. Floyd H. Flake and the current Ways and Mean Chair Congressman Charles Rangel. The Empire State celebrated another milestone with the ascent of Lt. Governor David Paterson, a prominent Black politician and former New York State Senator, to the governorship of New York in the wake of a scandal that ousted Eliot Spitzer.
“There is so much turmoil within the political arena at this time; but with all that’s going on there is still much to celebrate, starting with the fact that we have our first Black President,” commented Tiffany Braxton, Founder and CEO of Midnight Management, a marketing and development firm, and community advocate. “As a native New Yorker, I was extremely happy to also celebrate Governor Paterson stepping in for Eliot Spitzer. A Black man in a position of power (I thought), maybe there is still hope for us as a people after all.”
Approval ratings and anticipation was high for the first legally blind, African American governor who was seen by many to be able to work both sides of the room in Albany and get things done. White, Hispanic and Black politicians respected the governor and viewed his upfront approach as a key to “righting the ship” of the state.
Unfortunately, numerous missteps ranging from a botched senatorial nomination process and consistent communications snafus to an ever changing support team and a disconnect with that same legislative body, rendered the dream more a nightmare for New York residents. Thus, the governor’s approval rating and the view about Black politicians began to slide as the business of politics became more of a “win, lose or draw up a new game plan.”
With the mood of the country focused on democracy at all costs and the Democratic party as the flavor of the month, the power shift in Albany turned the tables to create more leadership opportunities for Black politicians in the New York State Senate and that balance of power hinged on a one vote majority.
An unsuccessful political coup that involved two Democratic State Senators shifting their vote to the Republican Party, changed the shift of power and all but shuttered New York’s political and economic process in the ensuing stalemate. Legislative initiatives and budget considerations were delayed and the efforts of the governor, who stated early on that he did not know what was going on, were futile.
“Challenge your elected officials to share their plan to get you, the constituents (the folks who elected them) out of this terrible mess we are in. But, don’t be surprised if they don’t have one,” stated Wendell Niles, a leading businessman and a Republican
Voting taxpayers rely on their elected officials and Black politicians more so than others, to always be on top of their game. Many of the Black politicians who were involved in the drama were key advisers to the governor and diminished much of the initial positive feelings that residents were beginning to have about Black politicians in key positions.
The infighting and lack of leadership was evident and the outcome, despite the shift returning to a Democratic majority and Black politicians back in prominent roles, has put a scar on the progress. Even as attempts were made by the governor and others to restore order and a sense of responsibility, the very idea is unlikely.
“As an African American with a keen interest in the political process in New York State, it is my position, whether Democrat or Republican, that our political parties exist to represent the voice and ideologies of the communities these elected officials represent,” noted Dr. David Scott, President of Clinical Research Development Associates (CRDA). “And that the fate of these basic principles should not hinge on the self-serving behavior of a few.” Headquartered in New York, CRDA is one of the few African American owned and operated clinical research sites in the country.
Adding insult to injury, these elected officials, Hispanic, White and Black politicians alike, who were not conducting the business they were elected to do, did manage to vote to continue to be paid, despite the governor’s threats to withhold their salaries.
With unemployment soaring, particularly among Blacks in New York, this was a major disappointment with ramifications likely to be felt in the next election. The fate of the New York residents, who rank high among the states that are overtaxed, was hung in the balance of a political game similar to a poker stand off that would generate no winners, but many losers and long term implications.
“My feelings have started to change, and I am not as excited about Governor Paterson as I once was. I am not as confident with regards to him making things better for us New Yorkers; it seems as if things are getting worse,” added Ms. Braxton. “His approval rating will not be at an all time high anytime soon. Can our Black politicians do what is needed for our communities? Well that depends on their agenda. They all have one, but unfortunately it’s not always in our best interest. I am watching and waiting.”
As Black politicians continue to aspire to achieve levels of success in local, state and federal offices and watch the examples being set by President Obama, it is clear that there are lessons to be learned in the game of chance that is politics.
There was a popular song that stated, “You gotta know how to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run…you never count your money when you are sitting at the table, they’ll be time enough for counting up, when the dealin’s done.” Unfortunately, the dealing in politics is more serious than cards because it involves people and their hard earned tax dollars.
“The recent political coup d’ etat in Albany violated every New York citizens’ rights to a basic and fair representation defined by the laws of decency and the Constitution,” added Dr. Scott. Too long those who served as the power brokers of these precious assets did not reflect the interests or represent the diversity of their constituency.
In some places in America, that is still true, but those times are slowly changing. However, the role of Black politicians clearly has to take on a different persona than those portrayed by many of the political giants of the past who forgot who they represented. Our communities do not win with “business as usual.”
Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.