Memo to GOP: Be Like Mike

By: Marc H. Morial
President and Chief Executive

National Urban League

This fall has brought relief from the glib conventional political wisdom that the Republican Party is poised to capture a significant percentage of African-Americans voters.

That article of faith has been proclaimed with unvarnished confidence ever since President Ronald Reagan first captured the White House twenty-five years ago.
Unfortunately, it's never been backed up with actual accomplishment.

One startling measure of the GOP's neglect of the Black Electorate is that from Reagan's victory to today, there's never been more than one black GOP representative in Congress. Currently, there's not been one since 2002. (In contrast, there are 44 black Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus.)

President Bush's two-percentage-point increase—to 11 percent—in black votes in 2004 from 2000 was confidently declared by some pundits to be the start of something big.

Now, such predictions have been very quietly packed away, in large measure because the slow governmental response to the terrible toll Hurricane Katrina took on the citizens of the Gulf region—with many African Americans among the most deeply victimized—pushed blacks' distrust of the GOP, and President Bush specifically, down to never-before-seen levels.

One may say the silver lining of that bad news is that the GOP has no place to go but up. But even that old saw has been called into question by the news that's roiled the federal Department of Justice this month.

Two new articles in the Washington Post raised the question of whether Bush Administration political appointees in the Department of Justice were deliberately trying to purge the department's famed Civil Rights Division of career attorneys who don't meet a conservative "litmus test" on civil rights enforcement.

Things went from bad to worse when the Post later reported that high-ranking officials in the department overruled the recommendation of a team of the division's veteran attorneys and analysts to reject the controversial Georgia state voter identification law because it would likely discriminate against black voters.

These new claims of an ideologically-motivated tampering with the decision-making of Justice's Civil Rights Division bodes even worse for GOP prospecting for votes among blacks.

That's the farthest thing from what we at the National Urban League want.

Not that we're promoting the GOP. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, we can't and don't promote any political party.

What we do promote, however, is African Americans' full participation in the game of American politics. That means we want them to participate in—and be sought after by—both major political parties.

What can the Republican Party do to gain black votes? We ask the question not for the sake of the GOP—although the mood of the electorate suggests it needs to marshal all the support it can for next year's midterm elections.

No, we ask for the sake of Black America, and the larger American society.
And we can supply an answer. The GOP should try to be like Mike.
Michael Bloomberg, that is—the newly re-elected Mayor of New York City. Bloomberg, an erstwhile Democrat turned Republican, won the city handily, defeating his Democratic opponent, Fernando Ferrer, by 20 percentage points: This in a city in which Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by nearly four to one.

Moreover, running against a Latino Democrat with a long history in city politics, Bloomberg won nearly half the votes of African-American voters and about 30 percent of Latino voters.

True, it's possible to exaggerate the implications of Mike Bloomberg's victory for political life beyond New York City.

After all, the city has a unique social and political culture; Bloomberg is a, to use a dreaded word, liberal Republican; and, not insignificantly, he, who made billions in business, is estimated to have spent at least $70 million on his campaign, dwarfing Ferrer's expenditures.

But there's no question about the one achievement of Bloomberg's that is the hallmark of success in American politics.

He has made the majority of New York City's electorate believe he cares about their interests and is doing something to improve their opportunities and life in the city—and the believers included a substantial number of people of color.

For example, Raymond Gamble, a 55-year-old black New Yorker who works for the city housing agency, told the New York Times, "I can't say I would vote for a Republican again in my life. But he didn't give the usual spiel. I looked at the kind of things that I saw coming out of City Hall, some of his objectives and goals on education and affordable housing, and I was impressed. He is someone who has my interests in mind."

There's the key. Black voters support political candidates for the very same reason other voters do: because they believe the candidate has their interests in mind.

Is anyone in the national Grand Old Party paying attention?

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