Thursday, July 06, 2006

Candidacy Fosters A Debate On Race

I found this interesting article from the Washington Post about a white man running for a congressional seat in a mostly black district in New York. David Yassky a Democrat has three other opponents and he apparently is the only black in the race. He is running to replace Rep. Major Owens (a Morehouse Man).

Check some of this out...

David Yassky has a solid résumé, lots of campaign cash and plenty of ideas for improving the slice of Brooklyn he wants to represent in Congress. In another Democratic stronghold, he might be the runaway favorite.

But in New York's 11th District, Yassky's candidacy has touched off a controversy about race and turned a sleepy primary contest into an emotionally charged debate over minority political representation. The 11th District is one of the dozens of majority-black seats created in the aftermath of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. And Yassky, unlike his three primary opponents, is white.

The City Council member's bid has not been well received by the district's black establishment. Rep. Major R. Owens (D), the retiring 12-term incumbent, labeled Yassky a "colonizer." Local black leaders have staged events to pressure the 42-year-old Brooklyn Democrat out of the race. A Web site was launched. Al Sharpton is calling on prominent white politicians, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), to take a stand against Yassky.
And here's a little more about the controversy. Afterall apparently he isn't the only one waging a campaign in a mostly black congressional district...

But some Democrats have come to recognize the downside of these majority-black districts. For instance, they can spark racially polarized politics, pitting blacks against other minorities and whites, particularly as the districts become more gentrified and ethnically mixed.

In a black district of Memphis, a white candidate who is among 15 Democrats vying for the seat being vacated by Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) has encountered racial hostility similar to that experienced by Yassky. Stephen I. Cohen, a Tennessee state senator, said in an interview with a Jewish newspaper, the Forward, that he is entitled to the same treatment Ford, who is black, has sought as he campaigns statewide for the Senate. "Don't judge me by my race but by my record," Cohen said.

Elsewhere, the "majority-minority" phenomenon has increased Republican strength by packing the Democrats' most loyal constituency inside fewer districts, allowing surrounding districts to become more white and Republican.

When Virginia's Republican-dominated legislature redrew its congressional boundaries in 2001, blacks were shifted from GOP Rep. J. Randy Forbes's Chesapeake area district to Democratic Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott's majority-black district, which follows the James River from the Norfolk area to suburban Richmond.

In a 2001 special election before redistricting, Forbes narrowly defeated a black state senator, L. Louise Lucas, 52 percent to 48 percent. In 2002, after the boundaries were redrawn, Forbes won his seat with 98 percent of the vote. This year, when Democrats are positioned to possibly take back control of the House, Forbes is running unopposed.
Now what is discussed in this article are provisions for the Voting Rights Act 0f 1965. It is set to expire this year and it is to be voted upon for another re-extension. The creation of a majority minority congressional districts are a by-product of the Voting Rights Act by helping to improve black participation in politics. There are those who want greater protections while there are those who think that this policy is an issue...

But some Democratic strategists have begun to question whether strict adherence to a 40-year-old model of minority-dominated districts could be hurting the party in the long term. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that at one time it made sense for the courts and state legislatures to carve out majority-black districts to break racially discriminatory practices, primarily in the South.

Looking at the map of congressional districts today, Emanuel asked: "Are we at the point in the political process where you don't need a 70 percent district, but a 50 to 45 district, with the political capacity to be more competitive in surrounding areas, so that more Democrats can win?"

The rapid transformation of urban areas could force Democratic and civil rights leaders to rethink minority districts, voting rights experts say. A combination of gentrification, immigration, intermarriage and a migrating black middle class "means that race just doesn't have the power that it once did, in these kinds of settings," said Edward Blum, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who has written extensively about minority districts.
Oh yeah here are some statistics...

Just over half of the 40 black House members represent majority-black districts, while three of the four California black members represent larger Hispanic populations, said David A. Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank that focuses on minority issues.

But they are all serving in the Democratic minority. "Remember, the [Voting Rights Act] is about black voters, not black elected officials," Bositis said. "And black voters are not having their interests represented, although there are more black members of Congress."
Finally here's some information about New York's 11th congressional district...

The 11th District was drawn in 1968 as a result of a Voting Rights Act lawsuit and was first occupied by Shirley Chisholm, who gained national prominence as an advocate of women and minority rights, and who ran for president in 1972. She was succeeded by Owens, a former librarian and state senator with liberal views and a penchant for passionate floor speeches, often delivered in rap style.

The district has evolved in recent years into a demographic melange, blending long-standing African American and Caribbean American populations with newer arrivals, including Arab, Asian and Hispanic immigrants and affluent white voters. The four candidates in the race to succeed Owens represent this new demographic reality: Yassky lives in wealthy Brooklyn Heights; City Council Member Yvette D. Clarke is of Caribbean descent; state Sen. Carl Andrews is an African American from Crown Heights; and Owens's son, Chris Owens, is biracial, having a white Jewish mother.
Perhaps more dramatic has been the change in the district's income levels, which have skyrocketed along with property values. The imbalance is reflected in the candidates' campaign accounts. As of March 31, the end of the most recent campaign reporting period, Yassky had $750,000 cash on hand, compared with $450,000 combined for his three competitors.
One feature that has not changed is the district's deeply liberal bent. Regardless of class or color, Yassky and Owens said, voters are overwhelmingly opposed to the war in Iraq and want better schools and better health coverage. Anna Acosta, 21 and black, stopped to chat with Yassky along Eastern Parkway. Acosta said she is looking for a candidate who is willing to aggressively stand up to Republicans.
Very interesting.

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