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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Black Democrat Leaders vs 2010 GOP Sweep: Dems Lose

Voting Leaves New York’s Black Democrats With Less Power

Even as Democrats gathered in the ballroom of a Manhattan hotel last week to celebrate their party’s sweep of statewide offices in New York, a sober realization began to dawn among some in the crowd: What once seemed like a new golden age for the state’s black political establishment could be on the verge of an abrupt collapse.

Come January, the state’s first Black governor, David A. Paterson, will leave the Governor’s mansion after serving less than one term. Representative Charles B. Rangel, the dean of New York’s Congressional delegation and head of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee until this year, will return to Washington as a member of the Democratic minority, as will Representative Edolphus Towns, who will lose the top post on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

And in what many see as the biggest blow, Democrats appear likely to lose their majority in the State Senate, costing African-Americans their highest-ranking remaining post in state government. Black leaders in New York regarded holding the majority, headed by Senator John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, as their highest priority this election.

“We are going to have to adapt to a new landscape and some loss of political power,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat.

The shift has set off a round of jockeying and recrimination in black political circles, as black elected officials and operatives grapple with what is both a genuine diminishing of their power in government and a profound symbolic setback.

“I got a bit nostalgic myself on Election Day,” said Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, the chairman of the Manhattan Democratic organization and a mainstay of the Harlem political scene.

Mr. Wright said blacks would continue to have influence under the governor-elect, Andrew M. Cuomo. But Mr. Paterson’s exit — coming on top of the ethics accusations against Mr. Rangel and the narrow loss last year of William C. Thompson, the Democratic candidate for mayor against Michael R. Bloomberg — was an emotional blow, Mr. Wright said.

Mr. Wright said he had called the governor last Tuesday to reminisce about how the two men, when Mr. Paterson was a state senator from Harlem, would walk the neighborhood together greeting voters on Election Day.

“This is probably the first time his name was not on the ballot in well over 20 years,” Mr. Wright said, adding: “He’s going to be fine. I lamented.”

Mr. Thompson, who plans to run for mayor again in 2013, noted that the loss of the House had not only stripped Mr. Rangel and Mr. Towns of their chairmanships, but had also thrown into the minority rising black representatives like Yvette D. Clarke of Brooklyn.

“It’s a real concern,” Mr. Thompson, a former city comptroller from Brooklyn, said. “People are talking about it.”

The situation has changed drastically from just a year ago, he said.

“African-Americans had a president, committee chairs and other positions in the House, the governor, and control of the State Senate,” Mr. Thompson said. “And all that could evaporate in a short period of time.”

Complicating emotions is an uncomfortable reality: Mr. Paterson, Mr. Rangel and Democratic leaders in the State Senate all faced accusations of financial impropriety or misuse of their offices. While some black officials consider those accusations to be unfair and even racially tinged, others grumble about missed chances.

“There are people in the African-American community who are frustrated,” said one black political operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be seen as criticizing black leaders.

“There’s no one you can point to in government who is in a senior position right now,” the operative added, “who you can say with pride: that person symbolizes what public service and effectiveness is all about.”

Many worry about the loss of influence over important legislation, noting that the combination of Mr. Paterson and a State Senate led by black Democrats had ensured that some long-delayed policy priorities — the overhaul of the Rockefeller-era drug sentencing laws, and new protections against police stop-and-frisk policies — were finally achieved.

“The danger there is that black folks could be left out,” said Tyquana L. Henderson, a Democratic political consultant. “There will be some policies that need to be changed that won’t be changed. There will be legislation that will need to be put forward that won’t be put forward.”

For Mr. Cuomo, who won overwhelmingly among black voters last week but whose relations with black elected officials have at times been fraught, the shift may bring headaches as well as opportunity.

Mr. Paterson’s departure and Mr. Rangel’s decreased role are likely to hasten a generational shift among black politicians in New York, as younger elected officials from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx join the Harlem old guard in positions of influence. Mr. Cuomo already enjoys closer ties — and fewer ancient grudges — with the newer generation, who are eager to take up a more prominent role in Albany affairs.

Yet new grudges may already be forming. Some black Democrats grumble that Mr. Cuomo did not do enough to help Democrats retain the State Senate, an obligation they believe he owed them after choosing the Rochester mayor, Robert J. Duffy, as his running mate last spring, leaving the party’s statewide slate entirely white.

While Mr. Cuomo did endorse a number of Democrats for the State Senate in the last weeks before Election Day, some candidates questioned whether he contributed enough money from his own bulging campaign accounts to help them.

In the closing days of the campaign, according to people familiar with the discussions, Mr. Cuomo did direct aides to encourage his donors to provide a last-minute influx of cash to the Senate campaign committee. But some Senate Democrats hoped for more.

While Mr. Cuomo has pledged to make diversity a hallmark of his administration, his inner circle is both close-knit and almost all white, limiting his options to make a high-profile senior appointment within the executive chamber.

And black leaders said they would not be satisfied with appointments to midsize agencies and departments, or those traditionally associated with issues of concern to the African-American community.

“Traditionally, the commissionerships that people of color get are children and family services, the human rights commission, that sort of thing,” Assemblyman Carl E. Heastie, the Bronx Democratic chairman, said. “I’d like to see people of color considered for some of the major agencies and authorities.”

Some black leaders worry that they will be unable to gain attention for issues that Mr. Paterson and Senate leaders pushed, like expanding opportunities for black-owned businesses to compete for state contracts.

“Those positions have increased our ability to do things that are important to the community,” Mr. Jeffries, the Brooklyn assemblyman, said. “There are a lot of things we could not have accomplished. Absent partners in the Senate and elsewhere, things could be a little rough over the next few years.”

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx Continues To Urge City-County Merger

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is still pushing for the city and county to consolidate some departments to save money - the first step toward what he hopes will be the full political merger of the two governments, and the eventual independence of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Mecklenburg commissioners this week asked their staff to explore how to consolidate some departments with the city, and Foxx said Friday he's hopeful the talks will lead to action.

While combining the four departments under study - Medic/fire, human resources, permitting and government TV -- wouldn't likely save a significant amount of money, it could be a crucial step toward having one body of elected officials making decisions and one manager.

After merging the city and county, Foxx said he supports breaking CMS from the county, something that would require state approval.

"If I had my magic wand, there would be one taxing authority for the city and county, and another (taxing authority) for the school board," Foxx said.

The hurdles to political consolidation are considerable.

Political consolidation has been discussed for decades in Charlotte. In 1971, voters defeated a merger. In 1996, the Charlotte City Council was moving toward placing consolidation on the ballot, then voted against it.

There is also entrenched opposition, or at least hesitancy, towards a merger.

Some managers would lose their titles or positions. Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners chair Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat, has said she would be willing to study political consolidation, but it's likely some elected officials would be against it, fearing they might lose their jobs. A combined government would likely have fewer than the 21 elected officials who represent the city and county.

"How many elected officials would there be? It wouldn't be 21, but it wouldn't be three," Foxx said.

County Manager Harry Jones told commissioners this week that his staff is too busy to work on consolidation at the moment. He and his staff are working with the ongoing library task force, boosting financial management within departments and crafting a new plan to pay for and manage construction projects.

"We have got a full, full plate right now," Jones said.

City Manager Curt Walton said Friday "nothing has happened" since the City Council authorized work on it in June.

"Harry and I haven't talked about it yet," Walton said. "Given what's on his plate, and my plate, it won't happen right away."

The city and the county already share many countywide functions. The city controls departments such as animal control, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, water/sewer and transit. The county handles parks, solid-waste disposal and tax collection. The talk of political consolidation came in part after the county's budget crisis this spring. Mecklenburg County made tens of millions of dollars in cuts to schools, parks and social services, while the city made lesser cuts, and gave employees a raise.

'Emergency' in Education

Having one government would give a manager more departments that could be cut to balance a budget. Instead of the brunt of cuts falling on a few departments, the pain could be spread out, Foxx has said.

Foxx said having an independent school system with taxing authority could help CMS have more flexibility in dealing with budget shortfalls. Because CMS is dependent on state and county funding, Foxx said school officials must try to guess "where the hockey puck will end up."

Foxx said there is a "national emergency" in education, and a "local emergency," as well. He added that "we don't have a second to waste."

Foxx, a graduate of West Charlotte High, has spoken at length about the importance of CMS to the Charlotte region.

Move to Private School

This year, he switched his oldest child from a CMS school to Charlotte Country Day, one of the city's private schools. Foxx hasn't picked a school for his youngest child.

When asked by the Observer Friday whether issues at CMS had influenced his decision to switch to Country Day, Foxx declined to comment.

Faced with a loss of $100 million in state and local funding, CMS is considering more layoffs, as well school closings.

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx "Grieves" Over Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Budget Problems

Mayor Anthony Foxx said he was grieving as he watched the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system wrestle with its plan to close schools in order to save money for teachers.

“We have a national emergency in education and if we have a national emergency, we have a local emergency,” said Foxx at a meeting with reporters.

He said he understands the “consternation” in the community over school closings.

“We’re grieving because we’re starting to lose institutions that are fundamental to the fabric or our community,” he said.

His own solution to the problem would be to consolidate the city and Mecklenburg County governments. The mayor said it would be a better way of funding CMS.

“I’d take the 48 percent of the county budget that goes to schools and I’d shift it over to the school system,” he said.

But School Board Chairman Eric Davis said that kind of consolidation would have to win the support of the state legislature and he did not think that was likely right now.

“It is an idea worth exploring. Whether it is something that can actually be realized depends a great deal on the public’s word to the state legislature about how much they desire this local control,” Davis said.

Foxx said something has to be done.

“The thing that worries me the most, even more than school closures is how we’re going to get every child the best opportunity to learn,” he explained.

Legislative Changes On The Way In North Carolina Senate & House

N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, D-Dare, has been one of the most powerful individuals in state government since the early 1990s, but his long reign as the Senate's top leader appears to be at an end.

Republican candidates for the N.C. Senate appeared to be taking over that chamber for the first time since 1898 and the party's candidates for the House appeared to be winning the House of Representatives for the first time since 1997 as well.

With an Anti-Incumbent mood running among voters in legislative elections, Democrats in North Carolina who dominated the General Assembly in the 20th and so far the 21st centuries will surely find Raleigh a far different place when the General Assembly reconvenes in 2011.

Democrat Bev Perdue will still be Governor for at least another two years, of course, but many things are likely to change

Republicans who have been thwarted in their legislative efforts will find a different atmosphere. The electoral change would open up new leadership opportunities for Republicans such as Sen. Bob Rucho of Charlotte and Rep. Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg.

The Senate changes include the biennial drafting of the state budget, for which Republicans have been laying plans for months to trim more than $3 billion from the state's roughly $20 billion operating budget. Some plans envision cutting up to 20 percent to make ends meet.

Perhaps just as important is the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts for the upcoming decade. Those districts must be revised every 10 years following the Census, and Republicans will have the chance to guide redistricting committees through the process for the first time in modern state history.

Also important to Republicans is Court of Appeals Judge Barbara Jackson's lead over Democratic Court of Appeals Judge Bob Hunter for the N.C. Supreme Court seat held by outgoing justice Ed Brady. Although these seats are nonpartisan, it's no secret that Jackson is a Republican, as is Brady. And her election would not only preserve a 4-3 Republican-Democrat split on the court, it will also give the N.C. court a majority of female justices. It's foolish to predict how justices will vote based on their political party, but it will comfort Republicans in redistricting lawsuits that the numbers at least appear to be on their side.

Democrats no doubt will now have second thoughts about their refusal to go along with Republican proposals in past years to create a nonpartisan commission to study demographic changes and draft new districts for the state's 13 congressional districts and 170 legislative districts. It will be another decade before districts could be redrawn, and Democrats will have time to ponder their lost opportunities - apparently from the back bench.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, MSNBC, NY Times, WCNC, WRAL, Google Maps

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