Subordination or Empowerment? African-American Leadership and the Struggle for Urban Political Power

By Richard A. Keiser | Go to book overview

Four Not Quite Brotherly Love
Electoral Competition and the Institutionalization of Biracial Political Cooperation in Philadelphia

In 1983 Wilson Goode was elected as the first Black mayor of Philadelphia. He was one among a cadre of prominent Black politicians in Philadelphia who had gained legitimacy and could garner votes in both the Black and White communities. Unlike the situation in Chicago, or other cities in which Blacks enjoyed a sudden and unexpected breakthrough to political power after a long period of political subordination that left the Black community with few leaders capable of commanding diffuse support, in Philadelphia Black leaders had been participating in biracial coalitions that had been delivering incremental political empowerment for quite some time and that continue to do so in the post-Goode era. This chapter presents a history and analysis of the formation of the biracial, reform-oriented alliance in Philadelphia that was the forerunner of the coalition that elected Wilson Goode as mayor in 1983. I explain how and why biracial coalitions emerged from the conditions created by competitive electoral politics in the "City of Brotherly Love." The chapter also documents the intermittent success of the biracial reform coalition in gaining the political empowerment of Blacks, and the strategies that the coalition members used to maintain their trust during periods when they lost elections and were excluded from the dominant coalition. I also examine the opposition a biracial coalition dedicated to an incrementalist strategy faces from within the Black community and from Whites. Concluding with a discussion of the current biracial coalition, which is headed by a White Democrat with liberal credentials, this chapter suggests that such alliances are no longer limited to the reform variety.

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