By Louis Avallone
When you dial 911, you only want to know that an ambulance is coming. Or that a police officer or firefighter is responding to your emergency. It doesn’t matter if they are black or white because it’s not about the color of one’s skin, it’s about who can get the job done.
Unfortunately, that’s not the focus for Shreveport voters, who are dialing 911 for new leadership, as they go to the polls this fall to elect a new mayor. And make no mistake, this is an emergency.
Millions of dollars in infrastructure spending is needed, from street repairs to sewer and water improvements, to dealing with rising homicides, and now, last month, it was reported that Shreveport was one of the fastest shrinking economies in America.
But instead of Shreveport voters evaluating mayoral candidates on the content of their character, and their executive experience to lead city government and get things done, voters instead are fixated on the color of a candidate’s skin. Political observers make it seem a foregone conclusion that only a black candidate for mayor is viable, based on the population demographics.
But yet they hypocritically wonder aloud about how this is the weakest slate of mayoral candidates in our city’s history. It almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for these pundits.
Is it any wonder that men and women of character, regardless of their skin color, might be reluctant to enter the mayor’s race? An arena where the color of one’s skin is seemingly championed over character? Where demographics trump leadership, and politics casts a looming shadow over anyone who might think differently?
The qualifications for mayor must be more than merely the ability, or tenacity, to mobilize “their” voters.
Many feel that this was the reason that Shreveport elected its first black mayor in 2006, and reelected him again in 2010.
Electing our mayor, though, must be about the content of their character, first and last. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of a day where his children will “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
To focus elsewhere is an abandonment of King’s dream, and an indication that we have unwittingly aligned ourselves with those who choose color over character and charm over competence.
Remember, our community’s success stops where our character stops.
We can never rise above the limitations of our character, and that’s why the mayor’s skin color is meaningless, if we are focused on which of the candidates is most competent. Which ones will show up every day, and keep improving? Which ones will follow through with excellence, and accomplish more than expected? Which ones will inspire others and create a culture of competence in our city government?
This obsession over skin color in our mayor’s race is yet another blow to the wedge that has often divided Shreveport.
However, this occurs all over the country, as well. In Louisiana, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin shamelessly patronized black voters during his 2006 reelection campaign when he said, “This city will be chocolate at the end of the day. This city will be a majority African- American city. It’s the way God wants it to be.”
I’m not sure about God wanting it that way, but with rhetoric like that, Nagin gained 80 percent of the black vote and was handily reelected.
Even so, black voters across the country, who have often voted reflexively for candidates based their skin color, have also replaced them, one by one. Consider major cities like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles where this has occurred.
Consider the bankrupt city of Detroit, as well, where race has defined the city for generations. Detroit is now 80 percent black, and just last year, they elected a new mayor, apparently qualified, and who also happened to be white.
Perhaps the bottom line is that if we can’t move past color, we really won’t ever attract the best and brightest candidates, and therefore won’t ever engage in the type of discussion that moves a community forward. After all, if we can’t see the promise, we often simply won’t pay the price.
But inaction now, or ignoring the important issues in this upcoming mayoral election is not a viable alternative.
If you want to keep getting what you’ve been getting, then keep doing what you’ve been doing. If you are like me, that’s just not good enough. We can, in fact, become the next great city of the south, but it’s time that the mayor’s race has nothing to do with race itself.
After all, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “the time is always right to do what’s right.”