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Charles D. Ellison

Charles D. Ellison

Posted: January 10, 2009 05:06 PM

Uneasy Times for Black Politicos

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The (dis) appointment of Roland Burris appears to spin out of unnecessary control at every speeding moment of the news cycle, even as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Illinois chum/senior Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) fail to see the full reality of it. Talking heads continue to spin numerous scenarios, each one as plausible and astonishing given the horrifically simple nature of the whole affair. Ultimately, somebody in Senate leadership will fall back into crusty disposition and conclude that they should have just let Burris in.

This is clearly an example of politicians slipping on the political cost-benefit analysis. Reid, privately accused by colleagues of chamber isolation, may have wrongly assumed that a Burris appointment by scandal-challenged Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) would damage Democratic prospects in the 111th Congress. Thus, he got skittish - and in that moment, he bucked up a bit too much for his own good. Beyond predictable grousing from shell-shocked Republicans and the typical gossip-page babble from the blogs, the drama over Burris would have evaporated into the dust of political past.

B&B, linked by geography and ambition, called the Majority Leader's bluff from the moment it was announced. Reid jumped, instigated by Durbin. At the moment, as Burris readies legal action on promises unfulfilled, President-elect Obama is carpe diem on the sideline. It's no mystery that Reid is a bit gruff on the brothers lately - from his recently disclosed resistance to high profile Black Senate appointments in Illinois to rather vocal indignation about not " ... work[ing] for Obama." The perception is that Reid didn't seem as aggressive when offered chances for pushback against the outgoing President. Suddenly, questions are mounting regarding the Majority Leader's ability to manage his majority. Ousting Reid is not such a bad thing for a President-elect getting roughed up by an eager gang of Democratic leaders suddenly pumped over control on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Some, like Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and a coterie of aging African American activists, point to race as a factor in Reid's game. Comparisons to Bull Connor and George Wallace are a bit overstated and, on the real, over-the-top. Burris being turned away from Senate doors might be embarrassing, but hardly disturbing or on the level of head-knocking segregationist police, fire-hosed protesters or German Shepards gnawing on human beings. Certainly, one could accuse Reid of being a recluse, of underestimating Burris and the impact that race could have on the affair. This is where it got ugly. Burris suing the Senate majority is not a great start to a festive inaugural week. In fact, it's downright distracting. Perhaps, Democrats, adjusting to new found super-majority status, are past the stage of euphoria. Or: there is some unseen, unspoken and unofficial period of collective national adjustment to the thought of a Black man running things. It's setting in.

Too many folks are quick to claim "post-racial" transition in the final analysis of this election. It might be a "post-racial" election, but far from a "post-racial" era. In fact, we are about to experience tension between various expectations and realities that could, potentially, aggravate the racial dynamic - particularly during an economic downturn. The extent of this we can't predict.

What is certain is that Blagojevich, as dense as he sounds on wiretaps, masterfully worked that tension to his own political advantage. In that sense, the Black political establishment, while in the bliss of ultimate political maturity, finds itself getting played. Before it could truly grasp the significance of reaching the next level, it's held back by the grip of a dusty paradigm. Perhaps, there is a price that comes with maturity: for the jubilation of one Black President, there is the pain of multiple scandals. Burris may not be scandalous, but it is unfortunate that, on the cusp of becoming the lone African American in the Senate, he will be tainted by scandal. And he's not alone. He may join colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, such as House Ways and Means Chair Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), who face fresh money investigations. They are not alone - House Judiciary Chair. John Conyers' (D-MI) wife, Detroit Councilwoman Monica Conyers, is under probe and newly minted California Rep. Laura Richardson (D) faces an ethics probe, as well. And, although gone from Congress, the smell of cash in former Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) fridge is still fresh.

Elsewhere, as Obama reached heights once thought as unattainable, former Detroit "hip hop mayor" Kwame Kilpatrick (D) was jailed, his mother CBC Chair Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI) barely hanging on to her seat in the wake of the embattled son's scandal. North Carolina State House Rep. Thomas Wright (D) sits in a Craven, NC prison for an eight year sentence. In Maryland, Baltimore's first Black female Mayor Sheila Dixon (D) faces a 12-count indictment with Councilwoman Helen Holton separately charged in the same week. Nearby, in Prince George's County, Maryland, powerful State Senator Ulysses Currie (D) also worries over an ongoing FBI probe.

These are uneasy times for African Americans in politics.

 
 
 

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