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A new age of black power.

During the past two decades, African-Americans have made dramatic gains in political power. A 1992 report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies showed there were 7,522 black elected officials nationwide. Growth in the number of such officials occurred at the state and federal levels, but was most evident at the municipal level. The sharpest upswings were in Michigan, Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina.

The report found there were 463 state legislators - 105 senators and 358 representatives. And in California and North Carolina, blacks served as Speaker of the Assembly and Speaker of the House, the most powerful positions in the legislature. At the county level, 857 black elected officials served, and 3,683 black elected officials fortified such local governing bodies as city councils. Another 338 were mayors.

While the majority of black mayors serve cities of less than 50,000, 37 govern in the nation's largest cities. This group includes the mayors of New York City, Seattle Atlanta and, most recently, Kansas City. Key to their election was their perceived power to improve the economic well-being of the black community. Blacks have been badly neglected in the distribution of public services and the benefits of doing public business. While public agencies use revenues collected from all taxpayers, they don't spend these millions on everyone - they exclude black professionals and black businesses.

At the local and state levels, black officials are placing much needed emphasis on expanding business opportunities for minorities. State and municipal agencies have already stepped up their purchases from minority vendors. And business opportunities for black lawyers, accountants and financial advisers are on the rise.

Black investment-bank growth is a direct product of black political power coming of age. As shown in our June 1993 listing of the nation's top black-owned investment banks, these firms regularly underwrite hundreds of millions of dollars in municipal and state securities, which finance everything from general public services to the construction of public facilities.

This new age of black power has also brought in black lawyers as bond counsel and financial advisers in the sale of securities, and as auditors of municipal agency accounts. This lucrative business had long been off-limits to African-American professionals.

But do profits for the few trickle down to the many? Detractors say the impact of black political participation is minimal, pointing to the persistent gap in income and employment between blacks and others as evidence that black politicians lack clout. They say black people were hoodwinked into believing that if they voted for officials who looked like them, the economic well-being of African-Americans would improve substantially.

Such criticism is unfounded, misinformed and illogical. Gains notwithstanding, black elected officials are still a small minority of all officials in virtually every governing body. Whether African-American politicians can influence the broad forces affecting the black community depends on their ability to forge alliances, make political deals and in other ways work at the margins of the political process.

Black elected officials have opened the once-locked doors of opportunity. And, as a result, these African-American men and women have demonstrated their ability to push forward as effectively as any of the other pioneers before them.
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:political clout
Author:Anderson, Bernard E.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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