H. Carl McCall for Governor: A Lesson to All Black High-Profile Statewide Office Seekers

By Turner, Terry; Jeffries, Judson L. | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 2010 | Go to article overview

H. Carl McCall for Governor: A Lesson to All Black High-Profile Statewide Office Seekers


Turner, Terry, Jeffries, Judson L., Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


INTRODUCTION

African Americans have failed miserably at winning high-profile statewide offices. Only U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke III (Mass.), Governor L. Douglas Wilder (VA), U.S. Senators Carol Moseley Braun and Barack Obama of Illinois and the recently elected governor of Massachusetts--Deval Patrick have ever been elected to high-profile statewide office. The reasons for blacks' lack of success run the gamut. Some argue that the race factor has prevented blacks from capturing these offices. In other words, most whites are unwilling to support black high-profile statewide office seekers. Others maintain that blacks have failed to win these offices because they have been poorly qualified. Simply put, whites voted against black high-profile statewide candidates because of weak credentials not because of the candidate's race. This argument is not without merit as a number of less than qualified blacks have indeed run for high-profile statewide office over the years. Alan Keyes is one such example. Although he had no experience in an elected office, Keyes ran for the United States Senate on at least three different occasions in two different states losing each time. Rev. Maurice Dawkins challenged the popular Chuck Robb for the U.S. Senate in the late 1980s losing badly. Like Keyes, Dawkins was also a political neophyte.

Additional arguments have been put forth to explain why blacks fail to win high-profile statewide office that include: insufficient party support, the inability to craft a campaign message that appeals to both blacks and whites, and being in the unenviable position of running against a popular incumbent. This article examines the 2002 New York gubernatorial campaign of H. Carl McCall. It explains why McCall failed to win the governorship, and in doing so, serves as a lesson to all black high-profile statewide office seekers.

THE McCALL CANDIDACY

Herman Carl McCall is one of only four African Americans in the last twenty five years who were widely considered to be viable candidates for a U.S. governorship. Like Tom Bradley (1982) (1), L. Douglas Wilder (1989) (2) and Roland Burris (1994) (3) before him, McCall had a long political career. Formally educated at the prestigious Dartmouth College and Andover-Newton Theological School in Massachusetts, McCall also studied at the University of Edinburgh. After graduating from Dartmouth in 1958, McCall joined the Army to serve his obligatory six months of active duty as part of the Reserve Officers Training Corps. Early into his six month hitch, McCall discovered that black officers were not allowed to have white roommates. The policy was changed when McCall threatened to inform Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the powerful Congressman from Harlem.

After his discharge from the Army, McCall went to divinity school and was ordained as a minister in the Congregationalist Church. McCall always had an interest in politics, but this interest piqued in the 1970s when he decided to run for a state Senate seat in the 28th District, which covered the fledging black community of Harlem and some parts of Manhattan. After serving in the state Senate for four years (from 1975 to 1979) President Jimmy Carter appointed him deputy Ambassador to the United Nations--a post he held for two years. During the 1980s, McCall acquired a tremendous amount of business acumen (in both the public and private sector) that would later stand him in good stead as state comptroller. Over the course of ten years McCall served as vice-president of Citicorp/Citibank, executive vice-president of WNET, a public television station in New York, and President of the Board of Education, where he set policy for the second largest school system in the nation.

McCall's foray into statewide politics did not begin with his 2002 gubernatorial campaign. Twenty years earlier McCall unsuccessfully sought the lieutenant governorship on Mario Cuomo's ticket. (4) McCall's campaign for lieutenant governor marked the first time an African American had run for statewide office on a major ticket in New York. …

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