How to take politics beyond charges of racism

How to take politics beyond charges of racism
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The continued deterioration and downward spiral of our predominantly black city neighborhoods is proof that whatever politicians are offering these residents in return for their votes is not working. If liberal, race-based black Democratic policies and programs were the answer, why are black children failing in systems run by their own people? Black-on-black crime is out of control and gentrification displaced nearly 20,000 blacks in Washington over the past 19 years. Neighborhoods where poor blacks reside continue to deteriorate, while the downtown and more affluent areas experience continued growth from new office buildings and expensive condominiums springing up.

As this developmental crisis worsens, Democratic candidates for office continue to emphasize the issue of race as they troll for votes. These candidates’ only appeal to black voters is to talk about ending racial injustice, or to make pledges to provide more government services — free this, free that.

There is a glimmer of hope that some low-income blacks are beginning to wake up to the fact that they have no permanent friends or permanent enemies, just permanent issues. One overlooked example that there is a crack in the wall in the Democratic Party’s control over the black vote occurred in the last gubernatorial election in Florida. The contest was between Andrew Gillum, a black, former mayor of Tallahassee, and Ron Desantis, a white Republican who represented Florida's 6th Congressional District in Congress. 


Former President Obama and Oprah WinfreyOprah Gail WinfreyPrince Harry, Oprah Winfrey to debut special on mental health on Apple TV Oprah interview with Meghan, Prince Harry grew subscriptions for Paramount+ Meghan announces children's book inspired by Prince Harry and Archie MORE both campaigned for Gillum. When the votes were counted, DeSantis won by just over 33,000 votes. What carried him to victory was the 100,000 black Democrats who split their vote and voted for the Republican. The reason for their switch? They voted their children’s interests over race and the appeals by two popular black celebrities. DeSantis supports school vouchers and that gives parents control over their children’s education. 

It is in this country’s interest that both political parties be competitive in addressing the real needs of low-income blacks who live in a sort of “banana republic” controlled by the Democratic Party. Poor blacks are beginning to wake up to the fact that they must become swing voters and be open to voting for a Republican. There are examples of Republican leaders who have applied the fundamental principles of the market economy in addressing the needs of the poor, and the result has been the uplift and rejuvenation of low-income communities. This ultimately resulted in the allegiance of those who benefitted, and these Republicans won their political races.

Former Republican Mayors Richard Riordan of Los Angeles and Steve Goldsmith of Indianapolis have demonstrated that when conservative politicians reach out and engage low-income minority communities with concrete remedies, those groups will vote for them. Republicans would do well to look at what they have done and follow their strategies. 

When Goldsmith was mayor (1992-99), he established an economic agenda to turn around Haughville, one of the city’s most disinvested, crime-ridden neighborhoods. How did he accomplish this turnaround? First, with the help of the Woodson Center, he facilitated relationships by organizing small business owners in this low-income community into a mini-chamber of commerce. He then convened larger mall owners in the area with these local entrepreneurs and encouraged them to contract for services and products from these businesses. The city also encouraged some of these small business owners to compete for contracts with its agencies. 

Goldsmith also privatized the public parks and arranged contracts with local black churches, who hired low-income teens to maintain the parks. He used the engine of the free-enterprise system and applied it to the restoration and economic development of Haughville, which became a thriving district, though the neighborhood has battled crime in recent years. Goldsmith remained mayor for six years, in part because of the support of the black community who experienced the benefit of his approaches.


Likewise, in 1993, conservative businessman Riordan took office as the first Republican mayor of Los Angeles in over 35 years. When he ran for re-election, he received more than 60 percent of the Latino and Asian vote and about 25 percent of the black vote. 

Two years before he ran for office, Riordan sought out a nun, Sister Jennie Lechtenberg, who was operating an after-school program in the low-income area of East Los Angeles, populated by Hispanics. The program was housed in tiny trailers with scant resources. Riordan partnered with Sister Jennie, recruited the support of some of his friends, and built a state-of-the-art facility on land that he owned. After he announced his candidacy for mayor, Sister Jennie helped lead Riordan’s successful campaign. 

Riordan also spearheaded the building of a center in the black community of South Central L.A. and delivered on his promises. He set up a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment that gave a voice for low-income people during his administration.

While those on the political left continue to vilify those on the right as caring only about the wealthy, they should answer not with a counter-argument but with the real-world uplift that their strategies can accomplish. The trail has been blazed; they need only to follow those who have proven that by addressing poverty with an economic agenda, one can reach across boundaries of race and ethnicity to uplift communities — and win races. 

Robert L. Woodson, Sr. is the president and founder of the Woodson Center. Follow him on Twitter @BobWoodson.