Monday, December 20, 2010

Will Mayor's MBE Strategy To Get African-American Support Work?

When he announced he was running for re-election, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's announcement featured prominently the fact he has increased almost four fold the number of Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) contracts awarded by city government.

That's a mighty strange thing for a Republican to brag about.

Republican-leaning voters overwhelmingly view the awarding of contracts based on the business owners' skin color as reverse discrimination. That Ballard would feature this as a central theme of his campaign shows he's tone deaf to issues central to conservative political philosophy.

Ah, but there is a reason why Ballard is featuring his support of MBEs front and center in his campaign.

Amos Brown, radio host at WTLC, likes to talk about people who live on "his side of the street." The idea is that African-Americans, like Brown, have a better insight on what black folks experience than do whites. There is certainly truth to that.

But the converse is also true...I, as a white man and a Republican political activist in Marion County for 24 years, have a good understanding of Ballard's approach to winning African-American votes. There are Republicans who believe that black votes can be purchased by funnelling money to black businessmen through the awarding of MBE contracts. These Republicans view the African-American community as a monolith. They believe if they can buy off the support of wealthy black business leaders, poor and middle-class African-Americans will also vote Republican.

People often assume it is the more conservative, populist Republicans who are racists while the establishment, country club wing of the Republican Party is more enlightened on racial issues. Actually, the converse is true. The outreach of establishment Republicans to African Americans is often extremely insincere. They want black support as a means to an end, not because they actually care about African-Americans. These establishment Republicans seek out blacks for positions in government, as long as those appointed won't rock the boat and will do what they are told by leadership. It is the conservative, more populist wing of the Republican Party, often unfairly characterized as racist, who actually value the ideas and input of African-Americans.

As now a card carrying member of the country club Republican establishment, Ballard believes that he will win a sizable percentage of the African-American vote by buying their vote through an an expansion of the MBE program and cozying up to certain black leaders. It is a simplistic strategy borne of ignorance about what motivates the African-American vote.

It will be a long climb for Republicans to gain back the support of African-American voters. If they are ever going to do so, they can start by actually listening to the concerns of the African-American community and valuing real input into policy decisions, rather than appointing rubber-stamps to commissions and boards. Ballard's strategy is doomed to failure. Not only will his emphasis on MBE turn off white voters, it won't win him many votes from African-Americans.


Citizen Kane said...

Many blacks would agree that your post is exactly on point. Ballard believes that if he is as patronizing as many Dems are, he will be able to steal their votes.

That is why he hired Stepin Fetchit as deputy mayor.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Perhaps I should have used an example of how those Establishment, Country Club Republicans prefer blacks who will simply do what they're told instead of bringing an independent mind to the table.

When forming the Ballard administration, the powers that be, i.e Joe Loftus, Bob Grand, could have chosen an independent, intelligent, college grad African-American like former Republican Councilor Ike Randolph to be Deputy Mayor. Instead they chose Olgen Williams. Williams has a criminal record and doesn't have the education Randolph has. Olgen Williams is a favorite among country club Republican types like Loftus and Grand who want an African-American who will do their bidding without question or challenging their decisions.

Unbelievably it didn't even matter to Ballard, Loftus or Grand that Olgen Williams had actually supported Ballard's opponent, then Mayor Peterson, in the election. Williams is black and will do what he's told. That how sincere those country club Republicans are about African-Americans being involved in politics....they're fine if "they know their place." The attitude is repugnant and certainly not shared by everyone in the GOP.