Politics Mondays: If You Don’t Think Blacks In Los Angeles Will Decide The Next Mayor, Think Again! by Anthony Asadullah Samad
For the past decade, we’ve witnessed a dramatic shift in the demographics of Los Angeles that has sought to declare a new “minority” power base (that’s actually close to a majority population base now) and all but write off those who have been most influential in minority coalition politics the past half century, African Americans. Scholars, demographers and pundits have gone through great lengths to marginalize the “black vote” as something that is totally irrelevant to the future of politics, not just in this city, but throughout the state and the region. Most of the studies that have come out in the late 1990s and early 2000s sought to emphasis the emergence of “another politic” as the biggest factor to challenge the balance of historical racial powershare in Los Angeles. Of course, the developers of those studies had (and still have) another agenda that they’re seeking to promote, but what is most evident is that these studies did not have a true fix on the influence Blacks will play in who leads this city over the next ten plus years. They didn’t predict that Blacks in Los Angeles would have a major hand in picking the last Mayor in 2001, and if they don’t Blacks in Los Angeles will decide who the next Mayor will be, they need to think again. In fact, the race will come down to what the African American community does May 17th.
This race, according to a new survey released by the African American Voter Registration, Education, Participation Project (AAVREP Project), will come down to a 21% “Undecided” black voter electorate that are waiting for both Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa and Mayor James Hahn to get to the real issues that Blacks are concerned about. The AAVREP Project survey, taken about two weeks after the primary (after the Supervisor Burke endorsement of Villaraigosa but before the Maxine Waters endorsement of Villaraigosa), indicates that Mayor is losing traction with black voters, and Villaraigosa is gaining support of black voters. The survey indicates that of likely voters, Villaraigosa and Hahn are in a dead heat (40% for Antonio, 39% for “Slim Jim”), with the rest up for grabs. To what degree either is gaining or losing black support was undiscernable, which for Villaraigosa is a concern because whether or not the votes he’s gaining is enough to over come Hahn rests in the hands of undecided voters. Two things this survey brings out for sure, neither candidate is posing any viable solution to the three problems of most concern to African Americans, Crime/gangs, Schools/Education and Traffic/Congestion. An overwhelming 51% of those polled saw Crime/gangs are the black community’s number one problem, to which neither candidate has come with a viable solution—other than more police and stiffer sentences. This is opposite of what the survey indicated the community wants to see, which 72% said they’d prefer to see more prevention through social programs than the continuation of suppression programs. The other thing that the survey brought out is that both Hahn and Villaraigosa have some high “trust” issues that they have to overcome. Hahn, personally, because of the Parks “thing” and he really hasn’t done enough to deliver on the jobs and housing he promised in 2001. Villaraigosa, in general, because of the black-brown competition—that in some parts of the city has spilled over into violent conflict—that Villaraigosa seemingly wants to ignore, but is an issue that is definitely on the table for many undecided black voters who won’t trust Villaraigosa until he addresses this issue. So, there you have it. Given that neither has promised anything of significant consequence, there’s no real reason to come out strong for either one of them…but black voters will come out and make a choice, eventually. The black community will be the “kingmaker” for Mayor in L.A.
With key figures like Hertzberg, Yaroslavsky, Ridley-Thomas, and Magic Johnson waiting to land, and the endorsement game being what it is, don’t think, for a second, that black voters are sophisticated enough to figure this on out. This survey indicates that they are. The candidates can speak to “the leaders” if they want to, but the streets will decide this one, and the choice will be made for the candidate that speaks to community problems the clearest (without the double talk “wiggle-waggle”) and clears up their “trust issues” first.
And, oh, that question about whether Blacks will show up at the polls on May 17th, they can play that game if they want to, but it’s something that I bet neither candidate is willing to leave to chance. It’s been a long time since Blacks have been so positioned in L.A. politics…a little over 30 years to be exact…but the ones everybody said no longer makes a difference? Guess what, they will make a difference in who’s the next Mayor of Los Angeles. They know it, and now with the AAVREPP survey to lay it out a lot clearer, we know it. Let’s see what happens next.
Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of 50 Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America (Kabili Press, 2005). He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com
Anthony Asadullah Samad
Monday, April 11, 2005