It may not have been a full-fledged victory for minorities in the mayoral election, but a study shows that the power of the vote can be in their hands for a long time to come.
According to exit polls by the Edison Media Research, 46 percent of the voters in the 2009 mayoral election identified themselves as white while 23 percent identified as Black, 21 percent Hispanic and 7 percent Asian. Add all of that up and you have a voter turnout where the 51 percent of the voters were ethnic minorities. A survey by the Census Bureau found that in 2008, 45.8 percent of the New York City residents who voted in elections identified themselves as “non-Hispanic whites,” which is just under 5 percent less than the numbers from the 2000 and 2004 surveys (both 50.4 percent).
This past November marked the first time in the city’s history that the minority of voters in an election were white.
This can explain the relatively short margin of victory for Mayor Michael Bloomberg over soon to be former Comptroller Bill Thompson last November. Remember, Bloomy spent over $100 million in order to acquire term number three only to win by 5 percentage points. A majority-minority vote almost made his spending look stupid two months ago.
Since now the minorities are the majority, what’s the best way to make use of this newfound power? A few local politicians offered up some suggestions.
“I think that what we have to do as a city is to ensure that the minority community is no longer the people that are now considered the minority,” said Council Member Leroy Comrie during a phone conversation with the AmNews. “It’s clear that the population of this city has changed. The majority are Hispanics and Black. Clearly, the focus has to be engaging that community in a different way. The other focus is to ensure that those communities develop opportunities to make sure that they are taken more seriously.”
Council Member Charles Barron has been clamoring for the community to be taken seriously for a long time. Although he feels vindicated by the recent study, he knows that it’s useless if the Black community specifically doesn’t take advantage of their power. “That’s what I’m trying to tell my people. We are the new majority. We have to stop acting like a minority,” declared Barron. “We’re the majority in the population [in the city] and the majority in the City Council. We should be the mayor, we should be the [council] speaker and we should be in control of our destiny.
“We have to come off the plantation and realize that we’re no longer the minority,” Barron said.
Of course, the diversity of New York City is something that has been chronicled for decades. The difference between now and then, however, is that there was little hope in terms of true power for anyone who wasn’t part of the “good ol’ boy” network in the city. The signs of change have come slow this decade with Bill Thompson and Helen Marshall becoming the first Black comptroller and borough president (Queens) respectively. But with the triumphs comes overall disappointment from folks like Comrie, who feel like Blacks haven’t taken the proverbial bull by the horns yet. He thinks education is the key to that.
“We have to develop the ability and the organizational skills so that the minority community can move forward and look forward to a more clear understanding about the actual races and ebbs and flows of the elections,” Comrie said.
The “ebbs and flows” also include not believing everything you hear, which included the type of polling that had Bloomberg winning by a landslide before Election Day. Comrie feels that contributed to the low voter turnout and lack of desire by some to go to the polls.
“People believed the polling and it was incorrect,” Comrie said. “So if we don’t develop our own organizational entities, then we will be at the will of other entities that think they can tell us what they feel we need to hear.”
Skepticism and knowing what you have can be significant symbols of power if used to your advantage. With the future of New York City politics muddled and hanging in the balance, those who assert themselves and play it smart will most likely succeed.
“We’ve got to change our mentality and have a mentality of power,” said Barron. “A mentality of ‘it’s our turn.’
“I think it starts on January 6, when we should vote for one of us as speaker of the City Council. There’s no Black or Latino in office of power citywide. The public advocate is white, the mayor is white and the speaker is white. The comptroller is Asian and we’re happy for John Liu, but we’re the new majority with no one in office. That’s unacceptable and we can correct that on January 6.”
Barron feels it’s the only way ethnic minorities can take back the power.
“They have to demand that the new power–Blacks, Latinos and Asians–act like it, think like it, vote like it [and] talk like it,” stated Barron. “What’s the point of being in power if you’re going to give it back to the people that had the power for centuries? It’s embarrassing and insane. Like Adam Clayton Powell said, ‘Use what’s in your hands.’”