Stop Electoral Quotas in D.C.

    Tuesdays D.C. City Council elections decided who will serve on the city’s legislative body beginning this January.  This council, like all the others before it for 30 years, will have two members who aren’t Democrats–no small point in a city whose populace is overwhelmingly Democratic.  The two non-Democrats sit on the council because the D.C. City Charter, the congressionally-created document that outlines the parameters of home rule in the District, created an anomaly that is unique in American democracy: the reservation of two at-large seats on the council are reserved for members of “minority parties”.  In the District, “minority parties” means any party but the Democratic party.  This is anomaly is undemocratic, mutes the will of the people, elects people to office who could not win open races, and runs counter to the principles of representative democracy that binds the nation together and serves as a goal for much of the world.  It must be changed immediately.

    I do not believe that Democrats have to control every seat on the council to have good government.  In fact, history has shown that there have been too many ineffective Democrats on the council over the years and the city is the worse as a result.  Also, there have been good “minority party” representatives on the Council who have contributed greatly to the city. 

    The point is that the overwhelming majority of city voters, Democrats in this case, cannot elect whomever they choose to the council.  They have to simply choose from whatever is left.  And given the important issues of the day–public education, affordable housing, healthcare, public works and transportation, tax policy, economic development, public financing of a ballpark, and so on–it makes no sense to deny voters the right to choose everyone who will make decisions on these issues.  At-large councilmembers, for whom the quota seats are mandated, usually serve longer on the Council than ward-based councilmembers, thereby gaining more seniority and power over city decisionmaking.

    Historically, the office holding “minority parties” have been the Republicans and the Statehood Party.  More recently, however, Republicans Carol Schwartz and David Catania have held the quota seats on the council (Catania recently renounced the GOP and is now an Independent).  Schwartz and Catania have benefitted greatly from the quota mandate because there is no way they could win citywide if they had to compete in Democratic primaries or in general elections against Democrats.  Catania is a particularly interesting case.  He first won election to the council in a December 1997 special election in which just 7% of the voters participated.  Since then, he has had to fend off impotent challengers and win more votes of a much smaller slice of the electoral pie than Democrats.  For that reason, it is difficult to argue that he is truly the choice of District residents.

    Reserving two seats of “minority parties” was one of the concessions Democrats made to Republicans in exchange for their support for passage of the Home Rule Act of 1973.  The GOP feared the symbolic embarrassment of being shut out of the local legislature of the nation’s capital and would not support home rule without some electoral protection.  In a curious irony, the Republicans–who came to greater national prominence and electoral success in the 1980s as opponents of “reverse discrimination” and affirmative action because it can mean mandating quotas–engaged in quota mandates at the expense of allowing citizens to vote for whomever they choose.  Republicans, now in firm control of the national government, may now be ready to give up the most undemocratic aspect of American politics.

    The city is not better represented by this quota mandate, and it’s time for District citizens and Congress to get together and mend this tear in the fabric of D.C. home rule.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
November 3, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Washington, D.C Local Politics

A Mixed Bag for D.C. Public High Schools

For those interested in public education in the District, the recently published 2004 Washington Post Challenge Index (WPCI) provides reasons for optimism and concern.  The optimism lies in the fact that there are public high schools in the District that can compete with any in the region and the nation. Benjamin Banneker High School is a fabulous example of what the District is capable of, even in an underfunded, overly apathetic environment.  The northwest, D.C. magnet school ranked eighth in the region, ahead of many suburban schools that are considered to be better and have more cache’.  The data prove that, while they may have more cache’ because of their location or student demography, they are not better.  However, there is considerable room for improvement and concern as eight of the 13 worst performing schools are located in the District.  The performance of these schools is a blight on the system and the city, and gets in the way of those who seek to point out the good things going on in the school system.

The WPCI is an annual ranking of all public schools in the Washington metropolitan area on the key success indicator of number of students in each school who take Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) course.  This years ranking included 163 public high schools.  An index is also prepared for private and parochial schools that agree to provide course participation data.  Many of the “upper echelon” private schools do not release such data.  There is a growing body of research that shows student who take AP and IB coursework are better prepared to succeed in college than if they did not participate in these rigorous academic programs.  One Texas study showed that African American students in the state were more than three times as likely to graduate college in five years if they took the AP exam and failed than if they did not take the AP exam at all; they were nearly four times as likely to graduate college in the same time span if they took the exam and passed than if they did not take it.  The research also suggests that AP and IB participation is a better indicator of a student’s college success than his or her Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) score.

While the District is in desperate need of improvement, things could be worse--it could be Prince George’s County, MD.  With the wealthiest majority-Black county in the nation and real estate developments popping up over the last two decades featuring $400,000 and up homes on large lots, P.G. County represents the African American dream for many.  Indeed, many Washingtonians have moved to “Ward 9" in part because they wanted better schools (Indeed, over half the adult African American population in the county once lived in the District).  The WPCI shows that moving to P.G. for its schools may be a mistake.  Prince George’s County public high schools rank ranked next to last of the 23 counties reviewed for the WPCI; its 22nd place finish is two slots behind the District.  Eleanor Roosevelt High School is the county’s best and the Greenbelt magnet school attracts many of the most talented students in the county.  However, it ranks 82nd in the region, 74 slots behind the District’s best–Banneker.  Moreover, there are three other D.C. public high schools that rank ahead of Roosevelt.  Due to its failing public schools system, a generation from now, P.G. could be nothing more than a middle-class ghetto with large homes because it’s public school system is lagging behind the county’s relative wealth and ceases to be an attraction to upper-middle class residents looking for good public schools.

The WPCI provides the District with a potential roadmap toward higher achievement of its public high school students.  The data make it clear–getting students into AP and IB courses benefits them and the school.  The elected and appointed leadership in the city must use the same intensity to build on what’s right with the schools as it did to bring baseball to the city.  The must find the resources necessary to support students who want to take the exams, but can’t easily afford to (the classes are free, but the examinations cost about $90 each).  Anything short of that will continue to show the District’s policymakers as AWOL–Absent Without Leadership.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
December 9, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Washington, D.C Local Politics

Wooing African Americans to the GOP Will Be Difficult

African American Republicans are gathered in New York this week for the Republican National Convention. They have with high hopes for an improved relationship between the race and the party that will result in more blacks voting for the Grand Old Party in years to come. To be successful, the party will have to overcome a history that is far too substantial and negative toward African Americans to offer slogans and a few significant appointments of Blacks to high governmental positions to satiate a community that takes a dim view of the GOP.

These optimistic African Americans comprise 167 of the 2,509 delegates to the 2004 GOP convention (6.7 percent). This compares favorably with 85 and 52 African American delegates to the 2000 and 1996 GOP conventions, respectively. These delegates are unanimous in their support for President George W. Bush and the GOPs agenda, and speak of faith and personal responsibility when identifying some of the factors that draw them to the GOP.

One question that black Republicans will have to answer when considering how successful it can be in wooing more African Americans to the party is: Why should blacks get into bed with a party that has the likes of Tom DeLay and Trent Lott at its forefront, aggressively opposed policies that are popular in the African American community, has engaged in racist political symbolism (e.g. Willie Horton) and has unpopular figures such as Newt Gingrich, Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, and Ronald Reagan in its not-too-distant past?

Indeed, the party’s past will make it very difficult to move forward in a positive way with African Americans; it has a high hill to climb in overcoming the its racial history. Beginning in the 1960s, the GOP made a political calculation that appealing to southern racial conservatives would lead to national success. Moving in this direction, however, required the party to disavow its traditional racial moderation and embrace a brand of conservatism that repelled African Americans. Since 1964, no Republican presidential nominee has received more than 15 percent of the African American vote; President Bush received nine percent of the Black vote in 2000 and is unlikely to do much better in November.

The party’s policy history is problematic. Consistent Republican opposition to increasing the minimum wage and affirmative action, along with support for discriminatory criminal sentencing policies (including the death penalty and "three strikes") that are unpopular stances in the Black community. However, these policies are popular with the party’s racial conservative base and are unlikely to be moderated. Also, it was the GOP that led opposition to enacting the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday bill and sanctions against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Those actions, along with its 1980s dismantling of the federal civil rights enforcement apparatus, just to name a few, have created wounds in the African American community that have yet to be healed.

Given the 1964 ideological right turn, its subsequent policy positions, and the current closeness in national elections, one has to wonder just how serious the party is about wooing Black voters. After all, the party rarely produces more than a handful of Black nominees for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate and, understandably, doesn’t want to upset its base. Also, it was the ideological right turn that made the party more attractive to conservative southern Democrats and turned the GOP into a national force. That turn was largely based on racial conservatism and retreating on that win black support would alienate the very voters who have served as the base of the GOP for four decades. Given that reality, it’s unlikely that the GOP will be as aggressive in deed as it is in word with regard to African Americans. The result of which is more rhetoric and more failure in wooing black voters to the GOP.

© Michael K. Fauntroy

August 30, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Race and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics

Bush to Minority Journalists: Down with Legacy Admissions

President Bush’s response to the question must have been a surprise to those gathered last week at the Unity 2004 Journalists of Color conference in Washington, D.C. He said yes when challenged on his opposition to affirmative action and asked if legacy admissions in higher education should end. This is certainly news as Bush has not previously made this position on legacy admissions public. Bush should be applauded if this is the beginning of an attempt to change higher education admissions policies and condemned if it is just a bone he threw to minority journalists in an election year attempt to help neutralize minority opposition to his re-election. And it is an easy bone to throw when you consider that there is no real will in Congress to do anything about these admissions policies.

The cynic in me sees at least two reasons to wonder how strongly he feels about it and if it will ever become part of the Bush policy plan should he be re-elected. First, an argument can be made that he and his family have benefitted from legacy admissions. Confessing no first-hand knowledge of his academic record, or that of his family, it should be noted that he is a third-generation graduate of Yale University. If the reporting is true, his record was mediocre at best, leaving one to wonder how he got into Yale in the first place. Also, his daughter, Barbara, recently extended the family lineage to four generations with her May graduation from the elite institution. Again, I don’t know her record, but who among us doubts that her family legacy at Yale played no role in her admission?

Second is the timing. Why would he wait until three months before his possible re-election to mention his position on this issue? Legacy admissions have been targeted for some time by those who defend affirmative action. Well, it strikes me that this would be a good response to those who criticize him on his opposition to affirmative action in higher education. Perhaps this is part of his "compassionate" conservatism that we haven’t heard much of lately.

Legacy admissions is an interesting issue for those interested in greater diversity in college admissions in America’s elite institutions. The use of such policies in higher education has been criticized for being an unfair factor in admissions decisions that works against minority students. It is also seen as a protector of white privilege at elite institutions. Defenders of such policies say that they play a small role in who gets in and who doesn’t and results in a marginal number of admittance decisions.

But how should we define legacy admissions and how much of a problem are they? Is someone necessarily a legacy admission just because they had a relative graduate the same university? Even if the student seeking admission has a stellar record? Or does the term simply apply to those admitted with mediocre backgrounds who, on the basis of that background, would not have gotten in the that university were it not for the familial connection?

I don’t think legacy admissions are necessarily racist. I think a well-qualified student who gets into a particular institution in small part because one of his or her parents went to the same university is okay; particularly when there are more well-qualified applicants than available admission slots. The problem I have is when legacy becomes a substantial part of the admissions process for some students and when a well-qualified student is passed over for admission in favor of a mediocre student who’s parent attended the same university and may, or may not, have been a consistent donor to the institution.

Let’s hope President Bush will put his efforts behind his words.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
August 11, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Race and American Politics

The 2004 D.C. Elections

    While the District’s elections provided none of the drama or surprises we saw in the primaries, there are three points we should take note of and consider the implications of as we move forward with the new City Council.

    First, for all the talk about turnout nationally, turnout was uneven around the city.  Overall turnout was 54%, which was below the 2000 rate, but above the 1996 figure.  Predictably, turnout was much higher in precincts west of 16th Street, N.W. than most of the city.  That has racial implications as most white Washingtonians live west of 16th Street, N.W. and there have been some worry in segments of black Washington that a majority black city has a majority white city council.  The only majority black precincts that saw anything more than marginal increases were in Wards 4, 7 & 8, where ward-based council seats were at stake.

    Second, Marion Barry is back.  His reelection is likely to be overreacted to around the city and in Congress because it’s easier to overreact to something than it is to think carefully about something.  Be that as it may, those who are concerned about Barry serving on the Council need to remember that he is one of 13 councilmembers, not the mayor.  Also, many of the issues that he rhetorically champions–affordable housing, education reform, summer jobs for city youth, healthcare for the poor–aren’t on the radar for much of the council, their rhetoric notwithstanding.  This generation of councilmembers is more interested in downtown economic development and high priced condominium housing.  Consequently, there won’t be enough votes to pass the populist legislation Barry will push and, thusly, won’t be much of a factor.

    What does it mean for Williams?  Not much.  Williams has a majority of the council on most issues, and Barry is unlikely to change that.  Barry is a populist on a council that is resistant to change.  At most, Barry will be able to make small changes on the margins of city policy, but he will not be able to make the kind of change that his supporters expect.  Expect his support for the stadium plan after extracting a few concessions from the mayor on Ward 8 projects.

    Lastly, 2004 may be a prelude to a larger battle shaping up for 2006.  The election of Kwame Brown, on the heels of Adrian Fenty’s 2000 win, may be the dawn of a new, younger African American leadership emerging in the city.  If Mayor Williams passes on a re-election bid, which has been rumored since in won two years ago, then you can expect Adrian Fenty and Michael Brown to get in the race.  Fenty raised nearly $500,000 in an unopposed campaign for reelection and Brown, according to some, is making early plans in case Williams doesn’t run.  The council is also in for some tight races, which could be made even tighter and more interesting to watch if the baseball stadium financing plan is viewed as too costly (I think the Mayor and Council’s zeal in trying to get baseball back may be viewed as conflicting with other priorities).  Also, Keith Perry is preparing for a second run against Ward 6 councilmember Sharon Ambrose, and he is likely to be a formidable challenger.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
November 3, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Washington, D.C Local Politics

Toward a New NAACP

Now that the dust is beginning to settle following the surprise decision by Kwesi Mfume to step down as President and Chief Executive Officer of the NAACP, we can turn our attention to whom the venerable organization should select as its new chief.  While doing so, however, we should also consider where the organization can and should go as it welcomes in new leadership.

Let’s be clear about something first: this is a critical moment for the NAACP and making a good choice will go a long way toward ensuring that the organization will continue to be a viable and effective civil rights advocate.  Picking the wrong leader could move the organization toward the margins of American civil discourse and policymaking and accelerate the questions asked by many about its continued relevancy.

I believe the NAACP is very relevant and very necessary.  From disparate prison sentencing, to racial profiling, from voting rights protection to education, and from predatory lending to Black unemployment, there are a number of issues facing African Americans that have civil rights implications and the NAACP’s work in these areas is vital.  It can only help the cause of freedom and equality to have the largest and oldest civil rights organization speaking vigorously on behalf of those who need help.  Having said that, though, one has to remember that the current NAACP operates in a different paradigm than it did in its heyday.  While more work needs to be done on many fronts, many of the legal impediments to racial progress have been corrected.  Further, there are many other organizations on the scene now, as compared to decades ago, that seek to address some of the same issues on which the NAACP focuses.  The organization has been criticized in some circles as being stodgy and living on its reputation rather than its ability to speak out on important contemporary issues.  I think that particular criticism is overdone, but it exists nonetheless, particularly among the twenty- and thirty-somethings who have greatly benefitted from the work of the NAACP and others who helped open doors that many now take for granted.

Consequently, the NAACP has to pick a leader with a national reputation that has cross-generational appeal, someone who can clearly and passionately communicate why the organization is important to the needs of younger African-Americans.  Mr. Mfume began that discussion, but the new leader must be able to accelerate it.  Perhaps someone like talk show host and media activist Tavis Smiley who, while light on administrative experience, would be a good candidate because of his high profile, passion and cogency to issues affecting African Americans.  He would bring a level of recognition and legitimacy that can not be easily found in Black America.

The future of the organization may also be more multi-racial than ever before.  Many people don’t know that the many of the founders of the organization, as well as its early leaders were White.  So, given the demographic paradigm shift in the nation, now may be a good time to reach out to other racial groups.  The “C” in NAACP stands for “Colored” and that meant Black when the organization was founded.  Now “Colored” means not just Black.  Perhaps now is the right time to find a leader who can effectively reach out to Blacks as well as others.

Whatever the future of the organization, the choice of its next leader sets the path.  Let’s hope the NAACP picks a leader that can build on Mfume’s successes.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
December 9, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Race and American Culture

Cooke, Blair, and Williams

The recent revelation that Armstrong Williams entered into a contract with the Department of Education to use media outlets to tout the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program, while scandalous, only confirms that what many have long thought of him:  that he is a wholly-owned mouthpiece of the conservative right.  It also adds his name to the unfortunate list of African American journalists who have allowed greed and a lack of integrity to torpedo their own careers and make it more difficult for other Black journalists.  The list now reads:  Janet Cooke, Jason Blair, and Armstrong Williams.

While Williams has joined this scandal list, I’m actually conflicted about all the fuss.  After all, how many other such occasions can be unearthed where other prominent activists or spokesmen, conservative or liberal, have been paid to do the same thing–advocate a policy for money that they likely already supported for free?  It also shows what lengths the Bush administration will go to to foist its dubious policies on America generally and Black America in particular.

One thing I am not conflicted about, though, is Williams’ wanton use of Black media outlets for his own personal gain.  His galling opportunism is most acutely felt at places like America’s Black Forum and TV One, where he has been a contributor and host, respectively.  America’s Black Forum has fired Williams; TV One has yet to make its position public.  As a typical conservative, he didn’t respect these outlets enough to be honest and forthright.

Williams isn’t alone in this and the White House owns some of the stupidity surrounding this fiasco.  For all its perceived and real political skill, this entire mess could have been avoided if the contract had been done with the Bush re-election campaign instead of the Department of Education.  The campaign could have given him a consulting contract with vaguely defined terms while doing what was stated in the original contract with the Department of Education.  No one would have raised an eyebrow nor been any wiser.  However, the arrogant Bush administration did not appear to pause long enough to consider whether this could possibly be bad public relations or, worse, illegal.

The Bush Education Department asked Williams to do what they couldn’t do themselves:  sell an unpopular, overrated program to the Black community with the hope that Williams would be able to facilitate efforts by Bush to sell the program to African Americans, who have been resistant to Bush’s policies generally.  The assumption behind the contract suggests that Williams is more popular and respected in the Black community than he really is.  While he may be the best known Black conservative in Black America, he is widely viewed as an apologist for anti-Black public policy and a Black token in a vast sea of White advocates for regressive decision-makers.

The Williams scandal speaks to more than just greed, arrogance, political opportunism, and political missteps.  This debacle is about personal integrity and the continued blurring of the once clear lines that separate news, politics, opinion, entertainment, and advertising.  Williams didn’t have to accept the contract that was offered.  The fact that he did shows the lack of integrity that he has been all too willing to criticizing liberals for having.  The proliferation of media outlets have resulted in a diminution of journalistic standards.  Perhaps Armstrong Williams thought this was just another step downward in the continuing degradation of American society.

The $241,000 Williams received from the government to tout a suspect policy is a small amount of money given the impact this has on Black journalism.  My hope is that Williams’ sell out doesn’t unduly hinder other Black journalists hoping to break into mainstream media.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
January 8, 2005

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Race and American Culture

Snowe for Vice President

John Kerry has an interesting choice to make with regard to his vice-presidential running mate. The choice should be well-qualified, an effective campaigner and debater, and able to bring votes to the ticket. And, with the election likely to be very close, Kerry may have to think outside the box to find someone who can attract the swing voters that will decide the election. There has been much talk of Republican Senator John McCain joining with Kerry to form a "national unity ticket." The idea of such a ticket is intriguing and, given the too-partisan nature of American politics, a good idea to force the country to consider the nature of our politics. A republican would go a long way toward that end. There is only one problem with this plan: McCain is the wrong Republican. With a lifetime American Conservative Union (ACU) rating of 84, it would only be a matter of time before he and Kerry, with a lifetime ACU rating of 5, would come to loggerheads on an important issue. That would do more harm than good.

Kerry needs someone with moderate credentials who won’t turn off Democrats. I nominate Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. With 25 years of congressional experience and a lifetime ACU rating of 51, Snowe brings together the kind of experience and moderation that would be very attractive to voters around the nation, many of whom feel left out of American politics. She’s pro-choice, which will make her palatable to most Democratic party activists and her lifetime ACU rating is comparable with some Democratic senators and only two Republican senators rate as more moderate than Snowe. That could be helpful in attracting more moderate independents and Republicans.

The pitfalls, are obvious. She, like Kerry, is a New Englander and that might be a problem for some. She is a woman, and for all the talk of gender progress in America, I’m not sure the country would be supportive–it didn’t work 20 years ago for Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro and I don’t think the country has come that far since. And she’s unknown.

The responses to these pitfalls are also obvious. The 1992 Democratic team of Bill Clinton and Al Gore were from neighboring states, and they won so perhaps geographic balance, in this age of jet travel, 24-hour news channels, and the Internet, is no longer critical. While gender will work against her in some circles, the net effect may well be positive. After all, more than half the electorate is composed of women, and more women serve in Congress than ever before. And being unknown to the overwhelming majority of the country would be overcome almost immediately following the announcement of her addition to the ticket. The saturation coverage of her addition to the ticket would be enormous, positioning Kerry as far more attractive to undecided voters than President Bush.

The nation is in desperate need of bipartisanship. A Republican running mate would show voters that Kerry is serious about bringing America together. Of all the Republican options, Olympia Snowe may just be the ticket for America. A Kerry-Snowe ticket would be an impressive juxtaposition to Bush-Cheney, one that may prove to be too irresistible to the electorate.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
June 11, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Tuesday, June 14, 2005
U.S. Electoral Politics

Why African Americans Aren’t Buying the GOP

Republicans around the country have been speaking to African Americans with a unified message that has nothing to do with Iraq, the economy, or other pressing issues. The GOP has staked its claim to the African American community not by anything it’s offering to Black voters but, rather, by spitting on its opponents: the Democrats are taking Black voters for granted. The message can be viewed two ways. Cynically, it can be viewed as an attempt to keep down Senator John Kerry’s support among African Americans for this November’s election. Or it can be viewed as the start of a genuine attempt by the Grand Old Party to sincerely seek Black support.

Given its history, it’s hard to see GOP attempts to charge Democrats with benign neglect toward African Americans as anything other than a cynical capitulation to and reflection of the political calculus that will move the nation in the next few decades. While it’s hard for many to see now, the GOP will need African American votes to remain a viable national party. GOP success over the last generation or so has been built, in part, on adroit use of symbolic politics (e.g. Goldwater and Reagan campaigning on "states rights"; Reagan’s 1980 campaign kickoff in Philadelphia, Mississippi where three civil rights workers were murdered; Willie Horton, "welfare queens"; among so many others). However, demographic changes (the nation is becoming increasingly "minority") will make such politics less viable in the coming years. Soon Republicans won’t be able to win simply by currying favor with racial conservatives.

So it is understandable why they talk about wanting Black votes and taking positions, albeit marginal, on issues that resonate in the Black community–they’ve done the math and understand what’s at stake. So occasionally, news will be made when a Republican takes a position on something that represents a break with party orthodoxy. President Bush said yes when asked if legacy admissions in higher education should end. This is certainly news as Bush has not previously made this position on legacy admissions public. Bush should be applauded if this is the beginning of an attempt to change higher education admissions policies and condemned if it is just a bone he threw to minorities in an election year attempt to help neutralize minority opposition to his re-election. And it is an easy bone to throw when you consider that there is no real will in Congress to do anything about these admissions policies.

The ultimate success of the GOP in this effort will rely more on its ability to fashion policy that African Americans view favorably than it will on its ability to point out Democratic failings. The problem with all this is that the GOP has done nothing to earn Black votes. Currently, Republicans want African American voters to support the GOP without giving them anything in return beyond rhetoric. Of course the GOP then runs the risk of alienating many of the racial conservatives that have provided the critical votes necessary to win the South. Until the GOP moderates its policy preferences, it’s unlikely that large numbers of African Americans will see the party for anything more than what it has been to Blacks, a tool to use in its attempts to curry favor with racial conservatives. Blacks understand this; that’s why they aren’t buying the GOP.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
September 21, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Sunday, June 12, 2005
Race and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics

Close the Civil Rights Commission

Mary Frances Berry and Cruz Reynoso, chair and a vice chair, respectively, of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, have quietly exited the venerable organization and have been replaced by individuals who bring a more conservative perspective to civil rights.  Now may be the time to consider the future of the organization and the federal government’s commitment to civil rights investigation and enforcement.  The Commission’s recent past has been a disappointment and positive change appears to be well in the offing.  That’s why what I am about to write is personally painful to me and runs counter to my political and civil rights sympathies.  It also flies in the face of a half century of at least lukewarm governmental support for federal civil rights investigation and research, but it must be done.  I believe now is the time to close the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  This is painful for me because from June 1993 to January 1996, I served as a civil rights analyst at the commission, in the Office for Civil Rights Evaluation.  I arrived at the commission with great pride and optimism, knowing the historical significance of the organization and the possibility for its renaissance given the ascension of Bill Clinton to the White House.   

I don’t want to see the Commission closed for the same reason many conservatives do.  Historically, conservatives have viewed the commission as a vehicle to validate liberal social orthodoxy and memorialize the very civil rights movement that so many of them have loathed so comprehensively.  Moreover, conservative appointments have often been placed on the commission to provide resistance to the traditional liberal-moderate civil rights orthodoxy.  This has frozen the Commission in an ineffective place that does nothing to advance civil rights enforcement. 

I want the commission to be shut down because it doesn’t work anymore and there is no chance that positive change is in the future.  Let’s just cut the chord now and move on.  The commission is dysfunctional and has been so for over two decades.  The Reagan years began a slow descent for the organization, marked with decreased funding, the literal destruction of thousands of pages of important documents and other research in the name of administrative efficiency, the departure of dedicated and skilled staff members who possessed valuable institutional memory, and politically-inspired fighting amongst the commissioners that has had a chilling effect on its work.  This has resulted in a marginalization of the Commission which has continued since, with only token improvement during the ensuing years in the face of an ongoing conservative assault on it.  All of these occurrences have resulted in a civil rights commission that is a shell of its former self, unable to provide the leadership this nation so desperately needs.

If the status quo, which has prevailed for a generation now and appears unlikely to change, continues, then the nation and civil rights activists would be better served by stopping this charade and closing the doors at the Commission.  The Commission should be shut down now, before conservatives use it to validate their misshapen civil rights views, cloud civil rights history, and dampen any efforts to continue progressive civil rights enforcement.  Sadly, the commission’s legacy will be missed more than it’s work.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
December 20, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Saturday, June 11, 2005
Race and American Culture

The D.C. Democratic Primaries

While the fallout from the D.C. Democratic primary is not fully known, some things are becoming crystal clear–the election results represent a shot across the bow to those members of the D.C. City Council who have overlooked neighborhoods, parks, and schools in favor of $600,000 condominiums, downtown development, and business campaign contributions. How the members of the council respond to the results will say a lot about their leadership and whether they represent the entire city or just certain communities.

Let me be clear: The city council has been an abject failure on important issues like education, promoting affordable housing, health care, and community empowerment. The council members who are up for reelection in two years should to take heed of what happened this past Tuesday. The election results should be seen as a "red light" for tax breaks to downtown developers, taxpayer funding for a new baseball stadium (I want baseball in D.C. too, but a taxpayer funded stadium is a bad idea in a city with as many school infrastructure problems as we have), and general indifference to community empowerment.

The recent turnaround in city fiscal fortunes should be applauded and viewed as a magnet to recent additions to our populace who help make the city’s per capita household income among the highest in the country. However, residents are tired of feeling that they have to have high incomes just to stay in the city. There is a feeling of economic and social unease in many parts of the city–not just Wards 7 and 8, so. The gentrification that is washing over LeDroit Park, Shaw, Columbia Heights, Petworth, and Brookland, among many other neighborhoods like a mighty storm leaves many feeling threatened. The council has done nothing to ease their fears.

Many members of the council applauded when the mayor announced his goal of recruiting 100,000 new residents to the city. What was largely unspoken at the time was the fact that the preference was for new residents who don’t cost much to govern–upper income people who can expand the tax base and don’t require more than minimal city services. While understandable, that sends a message to those who don’t fit that description that they are unwelcome. No city official will ever admit to this, but just consider the new residential development in the city. The condominiums and "upscale" apartment buildings going up on 11th, 13th, and 14th streets and south of Massachusetts avenues represent all the evidence you need to see where city leadership wants to go. Where is the new housing in the $200,000 range? Many have forgotten the condominium conversion wars of the early 1980s, which were attempts to ensure affordable housing for all. That effort had many friends on the city council who would likely be outraged by the lack of policy by the current council to empower those individuals and families who want to do more for themselves.

Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards often talks of "two Americas." Well, there are certainly "two D.C.’s" and the dividing line is more socioeconomic than race. The first D.C. is a comfortable upper middle class city comprised of families, singles, and dual-income-no-kids (DINKS) who have solid six figure household incomes, home values north of $500,000, and can afford to send their children to private schools if they want. The second D.C. is comprised of everyone else who make up the vast majority of the city–poor, working class, and middle class individuals and families who find themselves in the cross-hairs of class warfare being waged by developers and the city council.

Hopefully, Tuesdays election results will stop the war against the second D.C. and lead to a more responsive city council.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
September 5, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Friday, June 10, 2005
Washington, D.C Local Politics

What’s At Stake for African Americans in Next Week’s Election

The November 2nd election is about more than picking a president.  It’s about selecting someone who will put into public policy ideas and aspirations that will help all citizens improve their lives.  That is particularly important to African Americans, many of whom are currently saddled with disproportionately low poor educational and economic opportunities, health care access, and high incarceration rates.  This is also a time of opportunity for African Americans, who have historically been very pragmatic voters and have supported candidates that have a history of supporting public policy favorable to their interests,  to have a larger than usual hand in selecting the next president.  From overwhelming support for Republicans in the Reconstruction era to equally strong support for the Democrats now, African Americans have been loyal to the political party that has been loyal to them.

African Americans are uniquely positioned to affect the 2004 presidential election due to their concentration in a number of important states.  While 12 percent of the national population, African Americans comprise at least 15 percent of the population in 16 states and the District of Columbia.  Seven of the states are in the top 10 nationally in population.  Given the close 2000 election, it is quite possible that a stronger than usual African American turnout can make the difference.  Consider this: if Al Gore won just one more state in 2000, he would be president today.  He lost Arkansas by 50,000 votes; West Virginia by 41,000.

Both parties took note of the high turnout of African American women in 2000, which was  attributed, in part, to the messages of the 1997 Million Woman March (African American men and women were among the few groups to see an increase in turnout from 1996 to 2000) and its impact on Black consciousness.  Given their propensity to vote Democratic, Senator John F. Kerry wins if African Americans show up at the polls in large numbers; if not, President George W. Bush gets another four years in office.  For those who want change from the status quo, there is a great deal at stake in the election.  Consider this: the U.S. Supreme Court has not had a vacancy in 10 years.  The next president is expected to appoint two or three judges to the High Court.  A number of issues important to African Americans–such as affirmative action, racial discrimination, and racial profiling to name a few–could all reach the Court with substantial implications.

But what are among the important issues in the coming election?  There are three areas of public policy that warrant particular attention before entering the ballot box–education, healthcare, and social and civil rights.


Current state of affairs:  It’s important to note here that even with all the talk at the national level on education, the overwhelming majority of decisions in this area are made at the state and local level.  States set the terms on which local governments can raise revenue to fund their systems.  State education departments set broad content policies.  That said, there are some important actions at the Federal level that warrant attention. 

Education has proven to be the best way to obtain a brighter future.  According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, people with a bachelor's degree earn over 60 percent more on average than those with only a high school diploma.  Over a lifetime, the gap in earning potential between a high school diploma and a B.A. (or higher) is more than $1,000,000.

African Americans are overwhelmingly educated in public schools systems.  However, crumbling infrastructures, underpaid teachers, sporadic violence, and insufficient resources plague many public school systems around the nation.  As a consequence, many young people graduate without many of the skill necessary to be successful in college or the workplace.

If a student is able to overcome the numerous problems that characterize secondary education and move on to college, astronomically high costs await.  The average cost (tuition, room, board, and books) of one year at a four-year private college or university is over $24,000; over $10,400 at a four-year public institution. Given that higher education costs outpace inflation, the likelihood of higher costs is guaranteed.  Even with scholarships and grants, students are graduating American colleges and universities with substantial debt.

The centerpiece of President Bush’s education plan is “No Child Left Behind”  (NCLB).  It emphasizes standardized testing for students and calls for greater accountability for teachers to ensure that students succeed.  The plan has proven to be controversial, though, because critics argue that the plan is too inflexible and does not adequately reflect learning differences.  Critics have also pointed out that Bush has not followed through on his plan to provide the necessary funding to ensure the NCLB can succeed.  Bush also supports school choice, whereby students can transfer from underperforming neighborhood schools to more productive ones.  Also noteworthy is Bush’s support for government supported vouchers to allow students to attend private and parochial schools.  This has clear church-state implications and Bush signed into law a pilot program to provide vouchers to poor students in Washington, D.C.

Senator Kerry’s education plan includes a proposal for an Education Trust Fund that will require an increase in annual federal investments in education from its current level of $23.8 billion to about $35 billion by 2008 to meet the full commitment of NCLB.  Kerry opposes Bush’s voucher proposal.  Kerry also proposes a variety of tax credits and savings plans to help make college more affordable and supports the continuation of Title IX without changes.

Both candidates call for smaller class sizes and modernizing the deteriorating public schools infrastructure.

Health Care

Current state of affairs: It is estimated that 44 million Americans do not have health insurance.  Those who do are finding themselves dealing with higher premiums, co-payments, and deductibles.  We also have a circumstance where many poor workers are underinsured, rendering them vulnerable if they become sick.  African Americans have a particular stake in the provision of health care.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans have more undetected diseases, higher disease and illness rates (from infectious conditions such as tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases), more chronic conditions (such as hypertension and diabetes), and shorter life expectancies than whites.  Prescription drug costs and benefits, the right to sue a health maintenance organization (HMO) in instances of poor care, and the continued operation of Medicare are likely to be important health care issues going forward. 

President Bush has called for reducing drug costs for low-income patients and allowing for private sector competition to reduce Medicare costs.  He also supports adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.  He supports legislation that would place limits on the amount of money a patient can be awarded in a lawsuit against an health maintenance organization.

Senator Kerry proposes offering financial incentives to drug companies to lower consumer costs; rescinding Bush tax cuts for individuals earning over $200,000 annually; and increasing prescription drug benefits for seniors and veterans.  Kerry also opposes limits on the amount of money an individual can be awarded in a lawsuit against an HMO.

Civil Rights and Social Issues

Current state of affairs: America is deeply split on civil rights and social issues.  Abortion, affirmative action, criminal justice, gay rights, gun policy, and hate crime legislation, among others, are just a few of the issues that have divided the nation ideologically.  Bush and Kerry take positions that reflect those divisions and it is here where some of the clearest ideological distinctions can be drawn between the two candidates.

Bush opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother; supports the death penalty; opposes gun control and efforts to close the loophole in the Brady gun law that allows criminals to buy firearms at gun shows without background checks and supports legislation to protect gunmakers from lawsuits.  Bush supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military, and opposes gay adoption.

Kerry supports a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion; opposes the death penalty; supports closing the gun show loophole and would require all handguns be sold with child safety locks.  Kerry opposes gay marriage, but backs benefits and rights for gay couples.  He favors allowing gays to serve openly in the military and supports gay adoption.

Military Issues

The next president will also have to craft policy to deal with an increasingly hostile world.  More military intervention will have a particularly affect on the African American community, as the military is disproportionately Black and poor.  Future decisions to go to war or commit troops will likely result in Black casualties, or worse.

President Bush has ordered limited National Missile Defense (NMD) system deployed by 2004, has not proposed increasing the Army's size, and proposed would increase military spending 4.2 percent to $380 billion annually.

Kerry opposes NMD, supports nonproliferation and arms control, increased recruitment efforts for more service members, and the creation of a Community Defense Service, which would  provide the nation with volunteers to assist in the event of an attack.   Kerry has also called for new investments in equipment and technology, as well as improvements in pay and benefits for military personnel.


African Americans have a great deal at stake in the upcoming election.  Education and health care, along with a range of domestic social and civil issues will affect all citizens–some moreso than others.  Consequently, concerned citizens have to do all that we can to ensure that whomever is elected president will have the clearest understanding possible about what direction the nation should go.  Failing to do so could likely result in increasingly difficult economic times, as national budgets tighten, interest rates rise, and military actions around the world rise.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
October 25, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Friday, June 10, 2005
Race and American Politics

How Black People Melted Chocolate City

There’s been a great deal of talk recently about the budding renaissance of Washington, D.C. It’s fiscal troubles, while perennial, have been brought under control, neighborhoods are rebuilding, and there’s even a hint or two that the public schools are improving. With all the good news, however, there is great concern in many of the city’s shrinking black neighborhoods, that what once was hailed as “Chocolate City,” America’s Black Mecca, Washington D.C. is now just a shell of its socio-political self. Complaints about a Black mayor being out of touch with his black constituents, poor blacks being pushed out of the city, and an influx of young whites, many of whom never knew of, and don’t care about, the District’s proud Black lineage is in need of restoration. That said, for all the talk about gentrification and other changes viewed as negative to black interests in D.C., these “problems” are “self-inflicted.”

For over 30 years now, Black Washington had worked diligently to undermine itself, and the city. Consider the following. In 1968, Stokely Carmichael and a group of followers threw a brick through a drug store window, sparking days of rioting in D.C. following the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those riots, which were largely contained to the 14th Street, U Street, and H Street corridors, devastated the economic infrastructure of the most important neighborhoods in Black Washington. Nearly 7,600 people were arrested, 1,200 buildings had burned, with property damage at $24.7 million, more at that point than any riot except for those in Watts in 1965 and Detroit in 1967. Over thirty years later, 14th Street, and U Street are bustling again, thanks largely to an influx of white owned businesses that have literally and figuratively changed the face of Black Washington’s most historic neighborhood.

Elected in 1978, Marion Barry used patronage to change the face of the Washington’s bureaucracy. In so doing, he expanded the size of the Black middle class through stable, consistent employment. The result was two-fold. First, the bureaucracy became too large to justify. Barry responded by making cuts in funding for other services rather than trim the bureaucracy. This accelerated the decline of the public schools, streets, and other important services, and led many members of the new Black middle class to thank Barry for their enhanced stations in life by moving out of the city into Prince George’s County, Maryland. This shrunk the tax base and further eroded they city’s infrastructure. Second, by unnecessarily expanding the size of the city bureaucracy, Barry made it virtually impossible to effectively manage the local government. The result was it became easier for critics to promote Barry, and by extension Black, Democratic mayors around the country as permissive and corrupt.

The crack cocaine epidemic of the mid to late 1980's also facilitated the death of Black Washington. Murderous Black men, seeking their share of the capitalist pie by poisoning their own community, turned parts of the District into shooting galleries, further accelerating the exodus of Blacks from the city. The Black-on-Black violence held the city under siege depressing real estate values in Black neighborhoods and extending the city’s economic malaise. Now, many of the neighborhoods that have served as the epicenter of the black intelligencia are now shifting. The newest homeowners in the gentrifying neighborhood that includes Howard University are white, living in large, Victorian-era homes located in neighborhoods destabilized by black-on-black crime, chronic joblessness, and deteriorating families. These new neighbors recognized a good deal when they saw it; many houses in Shaw and Le Droit Park are now selling north of the $600,000 mark. Many old-line African Americans are lamenting “what might have been” and asking “What happened to Chocolate City?” The truth is, “Chocolate City” is gone, and we are responsible for its demise.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
May 15, 2003

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Washington, D.C Local Politics

Of Mandates and Unity

“Mandate” and “unity” are the two watchwords that have emerged following President Bush’s reelection.  The conventional wisdom seems to be that Bush has a mandate and has called for unity in American governance.  The cynic in me believes that the calls for unity are phony–the kind of thing a victor says after an election, but does nothing to achieve it.  Given the current political climate in which we live, it’s difficult to see how Bush can claim a mandate or unify the nation.

Bush doesn’t have a mandate.  Bush did receive more votes than any presidential candidate in history, over three million more than Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kerry.  However, Kerry’s vote total–the most ever for a Democratic candidate, four million more than Gore received in 2000 and more than any candidate ever received in an America presidential election except Bush–represented more “no” votes than anyone else in history.  Further, and after more than three years of effort, Bush was only able to win two states (Iowa and New Mexico), that he lost in 2000.  Further, he lost New Hampshire, which he won four years ago.  This compares poorly with Ronald Reagan’s 49 state win in 1984, and Johnson’s 44 State win in 1964.  The popular vote difference between Bush and Kerry was largely driven by increases in states he already had locked up and expanded because of many state constitutional amendments on dealing with gay marriage.  Bush’s win was clear, but it wasn’t a mandate. 

This is important because if Bush governs as if he really received a mandate–and he certainly did so in his first term despite the circumstances surrounding his election–then we should expect an acceleration of the conservative, “we-are-better-Americans-than-you-are” political activities that have driven wedges through the nation for a generation.  The pressure will certainly be on Bush to produce a more conservative agenda.

The unity watchword is interesting to me for two reasons:  first, it assumes that the nation was unified prior to the election.  It wasn’t and it’s difficult to remember when the country was ever unified other than in war time.  Second, it assumes that unity is in the Bush’s political interest–it isn’t.  Bush governed his first term without unity and accomplished much of his agenda.  With expanded congressional majorities and an enormous debt to repay to social and religious conservatives, it is unlikely that Bush can be a unifier even if he wanted to.  The debt he owes to the religious and social conservatives who marched on the ballot boxes can’t be repaid with tax cuts and privatizing social security.  Bush’s debt has to be repaid with conservative judges willing to overturn Roe v. Wade, expanded efforts to outlaw gay marriage, reductions in the size and scope of domestic programs, and generally expanding the role of religion in civic life.  Along those lines, Bush will have to contend with aggressive members of the House and Senate who will want to take their expanded majorities out for a legislative joyride to the outer reaches of political conservatism.  Unity requires moderation, which is anathema to religious and social conservatives.

Bush can’t be a unifier without alienating a sizable portion of his support base, so don’t look for anything different in a second Bush term.  If anything, Bush is likely to slam his foot on the political pedal that drives American government.  That, of course, is bad news for progressives and liberals.

©  Michael K. Fauntroy
November 5, 2004

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Congress and the Presidency

Retaliation?  Yes, Then What?

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have brought home in stark detail the need for America to rethink its position in the world in general, and its policy toward the Middle East in particular.  Let’s be clear: we cannot continue the status quo policy measures that have engendered such hatred of the United States around the world.  After accurate, comprehensive, decisive, and sustained retaliation against the acts in New York, and Washington, D.C. is complete, we must– as a nation–take the hard step of asking ourselves a number of questions we probably have ignored for too long--

  • Why do so many people around the world hate the U.S.?  Is it petty jealously at our success?  Or, is it a function of our international policy in much of the world?  What is it about the U.S. that has women and children throughout the Middle East–who have suffered through their own experiences with death and destruction–celebrating the atrocious attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Are we as arrogant and exploitative a nation as we are perceived to be?

We are hated around the world.  The enmity many hold for the U.S. ranges from the benign we-don’t-like-you-but-love-your-tourist-dollar-and-we’d-rather-have-you-as-a-friend-than-enemy variety in France, Germany and other parts of Europe; to more serious versions within the U.S., and in Latin America, Asia, and Africa; to the deadly variety to permeates the Middle East.  Even in Israel, there is a feeling that America can stop being judgmental of the Jewish state now that historic terror has befallen the world’s only superpower.

Much of the hard feelings stem from U.S. policy support for Israel.  While that support is justified, we must recognize that it is viewed as taking sides against the Arab world, particularly the Palestinians.  While the solution to that part of the problem has been resisted, no one can seriously argue against what appears to be clear: until an independent Palestine is created, the status quo  hatred of the U.S. in the Middle East will remain, leaving us a target for future attacks.  It’s time to draw the boundaries of a new Palestinian state.   

What is obvious from the reaction in the streets of the Middle East is that many believe we have reaped what we sowed.  If that is true, then what should we do beyond military action?  As we have seen time and again, those that mean us harm have no problem sacrificing their lives for their cause, whatever that may be.  Consequently, bombing Afghanistan to hell–as some have suggested–may only strengthen the resolve of those that hate America.  Think about it, if they are willing to hijack planes, fly them into buildings, and kill thousands of innocent people, then what is the likelihood that they will be deterred, in the long term, from their mission by short term bombing?

Many commentators and analysts are calling for considerable retaliation.  While retaliation against these acts is justified, necessary, and should commence forthwith, we must be mindful that blowing up countries won’t solve the problem.  If we continue doing the same things, we will continue getting the same results.  It’s time for change in American international policy.

© Michael K. Fauntroy
September 12, 2001

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Sunday, June 05, 2005
Race and American Culture

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