A New Generation of Young Black Leaders
Historically, when blacks or other minorities got elected to office it was because they came from districts where their ethnic group made up a large part of the voting bloc. This is evidenced in California where Rep. Laura Richardson won a special election to replace Juanita Millender-McDonald in a race that turned out to be a racial clash. McDonald, a black member of congress who died in office, came into that seat before it became more than 40% Hispanic as it is now. The special election proved to be a real battle between black and Hispanic with Richardson beating her Hispanic rivial by 6% of the vote. However, people like Adrian Fenty in DC, Cory Booker in Newark, Carroll, Groff, Smith, Patrick, and even Obama are showing black candidates can extend their support to non-blacks and even whites.
When Fenty ran for Mayor of DC, he won every percent of the city — including areas where blacks make up less than 20% of the residents. Booker’s victory in Newark was almost the same. Governor Duval Patrick was elected to lead Massachusetts with 56% of the vote despite the fact that the state is less than 7% black. Their victories stand in the record books as other young blacks prepare to climb the stairs. For instance, in Florida, Kendrick Meek announced he is running to become the first black Senator from the south since Reconstruction and, if polls tell the truth of expected candidates for the democratic nomination, he leads the pack only behind the CFO Sink who says she will not run. For Meeks to be successful, he will have to build a coalition wider than the 15% of blacks who live in the state. He will also have to win the support of Hispanics who make up 20% of the population and are key to any statewide victory. The story of Barack Obama’s victory in Florida last November shows that this is not impossible. In fact, we can also look at the Congressional Black Caucus and see that it is possible. The CBC has recently witnessed a growing number of members coming from districts where blacks don’t make up the majority of voters.
There once was a time that federal legislation like the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights laws had to carve out districts for blacks to be competitive in. Now we are seeing the rise of a new generation not so much created by President Obama but with Obama that shows the reach these leaders can have and still be true to their communities.