Election Section

News Analysis: Blacks Play for High Stakes In Mid-Term Elections

By E.R. Shipp, New American Media
Friday November 10, 2006

In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy vs. Ferguson that Jim Crow laws mandating various forms of segregation were OK and that if Blacks had a problem with that “badge of inferiority” it was “solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” 

We’ve come a long way since then—often on faith. But as Tuesday’s election results showed, we’re moving on up through doors never opened before and with skills never seen before in such concentration and with a fire in the belly matched with the resources to do something with that passion. That’s the “construction” we’ve put on 21st-century politics. 

Lynn Swann, Republican and former football player, did not become governor of Pennsylvania. Ken Blackwell, Republican, did not become governor of Ohio. But that they ran credible races cannot be denied. 

The big winner of this year’s class of candidates at the state level was Duval Patrick, a Black man, a lawyer, a former leader of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. He is now governor-elect of Massachusetts. The first blood officially shed in the Revolutionary War was that of a Black man, Crispus Attucks in 1770, but an image I can never shed is of Massachusetts racists, using the U. S. flag, attacking Blacks trying to enforce court-ordered integration of Boston public schools two centuries later. 

The big winner at the federal level was Charles Rangel, the longtime congressman in Harlem, who for years had sold himself as a potential chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. 

Many people—including me—during the Republican hegemony thought this was a narcissistic pipe dream and that we would be better served if he stepped aside to permit new blood to make its course. But he is now chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee! Think tax legislation, Social Security’s future, Medicare and trade. Think $$$$$$. 

“Mr. Chairman!” former New York mayor David Dinkins greeted Rangel at Pier 2110, a restaurant that itself is a symbol of Harlem resurgent – across the street from a building and plaza dedicated to the memory of the last Black titan on Capital Hill – Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Rangel entered just before 10 p.m. Of course, the applause was thunderous among those who took time from the free food and booze to pay attention. 

As returns came in from around the country, I asked him: “How are y’all doing? “ He flashed that confident and triumphant grin and said, “All right!” To those gathered he said, “I’m hearing from all over the country that the people have spoken that it’s time for a change.” 

In California, Nancy Pelosi, now poised to be the first woman Speaker of the House, shared that spirit: “Today we have made history,” she said. “Now let us make progress.” 

What does that mean exactly—from Rangel and from Pelosi? Rangel, sporting an anti-Bush campaign button, assured me that “as chairman of this august committee,” he will amplify the attention he has given during his tenure to issues ranging from taxes to the war in Iraq to the quality of public schools. 

The Democrats now dominate the House—and many state governorships—but they still must deal with a reality that includes powerful Republicans. Rangel, typical of the Democrats who triumphed Tuesday, held out an olive branch while stinging like a Muhammad Ali bee. 

“The President could be in serious jeopardy if he merely stays the course,” he said, referring not just to strategy in Iraq but also to domestic policy. “This is a victory for Americans and for the Constitution.” 

He promised not vengeance on the part of Democrats who have been shut out of real power in the House for so many years, but “fairness.” 

“Fairness would be a novelty after the last dozen years,” he told me. 

What does it all mean? As the Rev. Jacques DeGraff said, “The baton has been passed.” 

May it not be dropped in the exuberance of the moment.