Race and Ethnic Conflict: Contending Views on Prejudice, Discrimination, and Ethnoviolence

By Fred L. Pincus; Howard J. Ehrlich | Go to book overview

29
Politics

STEPHEN THERNSTROM AND
ABIGAIL THERNSTROM

In two cities in Maine--Augusta and Lewiston--blacks have captured the mayor's seat. Maine! Blacks are barely a presence in the state. "No one gives a squat" about skin color, says the mayor of Lewiston, John Jenkins, who won a runoff in 1993 against an incumbent councilman by a three-to-one margin in a city that is over 99 percent white. In Augusta, William Burney was first elected mayor in 1988 and has been reelected twice since then. He was a "hometown hero" (in the words of his predecessor)--a basketball star in high school and a graduate of the University of Maine Law School. Evidently, "no one gives a squat" about race there, either.

"As Maine goes, so goes the nation," ran an old political saying. And, while there are plenty of places where color still does matter, perhaps those black electoral victories in a state 0.4 percent black do tell us something. When it comes to polities, the importance of color may finally be fading. Black mayors are popping up all over. The conventional wisdom has it that most are elected in majority- black cities. True--and misleading. That count includes victories in many tiny municipalities in the South. Eliminate those small dots on the urban map and the picture looks quite different. Between 1967 and 1993, African Americans won the mayor's seat in eighty-seven cities with a population of 50,000 or more. A remarkable two-thirds of those mayors were elected in cities in which blacks were a minority of the population. Half of them, in fact, were in municipalities less than 40 percent black, and over a third in cities in which no more than three out of ten residents were African-American....

Lani Guinier has described blacks as "still the pariah group: systematic losers in the political marketplace." That certainly was true once, but it is no longer the case. "People in political life are reluctant to say how much progress has been made...," the black journalist Juan Williams has noted. "In fact...," he went on, "segregationist politics is out; race-baiting is gone. Yes, there is racially tainted politics, but nothing like it was." His point, of course, was primarily about the South. And indeed a political revolution swept the South in the wake of the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 1962, George Wallace won the Alabama gu

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Footnotes have been deleted. See original text for references.

-359-

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