California Black community sits on edge, as an emerging face
off ensues for who will succeed
the late Congresswoman, Juanita Millender McDonald, in California’s
37th Congressional District. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has
set a special election date of August 21st, 2007. Several candidates
have emerged, the highly respected, highly funded Latino State
Senator, Jenny Orpeza, the newly elected Assemblywoman, Laura
Richardson and the late Congresswoman’s daughter, Valerie
McDonald. This election presents the African American community
with more than just a “politics as usual” scenario.
For the last thirty years, this has been
a “Black seat.” Formerly
a seat that exclusively covered Watts, Carson, Compton and Lynwood,
it now covers the tip of Watts, a dab of Compton, a smidgen of
Carson, and a whole lot of Long Beach. More than half the district's
residents live in Long Beach. 41% of the district’s voters
are African American, 37% are white, and 22% are Latino. A recent
poll was released, indicating that in a two-candidate race, the
37th Congressional District would still remain a Black seat.
Richardson or McDonald would win over Orpeza. But in a three-candidate
race among Democrats, Orpeza would win. This is problematic,
to say the least. In a state that has long promoted the fallacy
of shrinking Black political power, or more critically, a Latino “power
flex” on Black elected officials, this Richardson-McDonald
face-off is more than just about one seat. It is about what the
Black community is prepared to do to keep an all important Congressional
seat. We cannot allow egos and rhetoric to get in the way.
Many people are critiquing, even criticizing
the process from which the front running candidates emerged.
It really wasn’t
about being “handpicked” or even about ignoring potential “new
ideas”, as one of my follow commentators suggested. It
was about quickly identifying a candidate who could beat an experienced,
organized campaigner like Jenny Orpeza. This is not the time
for novice experimentation. The Black community’s candidate
has to have capacity, not just money. The person has to have
political experience, a base in the district and the ability
quickly to mobilize an effective campaign.
For the first time, in a long time, I’ve seen the political “camps” put
down their tents and move toward a consensus candidate. I’ve
seen other experienced elected officials in Compton, Gardena
and Carson defer to conventional wisdom. I’ve even seen
political enemies come together on this one. The consensus has
been around built Laura Richardson, whose tenure on the Long
Beach City Council makes her a fit for the seat - not to mention
her Assembly seat overlays 40% of the district (to Orpeza’s
22% of the district). It’s a common sense play. But we’re
not dealing with a common sense scenario. We have an aggrieved
family and an aggrieved community (Carson), advancing a sense
of entitlement that can’t be ignored, nor should it be
dismissed. Millender-McDonald was much loved. Many feel putting
her daughter in the seat is a fitting tribute to her legacy.
Whether it’s the right thing to do, is a point to be debated — but
not right now. Not with only two months in which to wage a campaign
of this significance.
What significance? It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room
called the ever-expanding Latino politic. Tied to a population
growth that will make them a statistical majority in the state
by 2010, the fear of encroachment on historically Black seats
is becoming a reality. This is the biggest power flex since former
L.A. City Councilman, Nick Pacheco, a few years ago, tried to
clip downtown out of Councilwoman Jan Perry’s district
in a redistricting power play. Some think the Black and Latino
communities are on a head-on collision course for political and
economic control of shared geographies. It doesn’t have
to be that way, but the over-zealous and over-ambitious have
a way of dictating this relationship. So now we wait to see just
how Orpeza's stepping into this race plays out in the long term.
Is this an isolated incidence, or the crack in the political
dam that will cause a flood of non-Black candidates to come rushing
through the Black community at a later date? All of this has
to be considered.
Meanwhile, the question will be academic
if the Black community doesn’t resolve this stalemate. The Latino politic won’t
have to take the seat. The seat will be handed to them because
of our divided politic. This is not about Richardson or McDonald.
It’s about saving an all-important Congressional seat at
a time when Black people need representation in California. This
is not just “politics as usual.” There is much more
at stake. Ironically, this is the same scenario the late Millender-McDonald
exploited when she ran for State Assembly in 1992. She walked
right up the middle while two more experienced white males (both
elected members of the state assembly) each refused to defer
to the other. This scenario is real, and it could play out again — this
time with two Black candidates refusing to defer to the other.
One of these candidates needs to realize this, stand down and
support the other.
Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing
director of the Urban
Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, Saving
The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is AnthonySamad.com. Click
here to contact Dr. Samad.