Obama And The New Black Vote

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[Commentary: Politics]

Super Tuesday may not have decided the Democratic or Republican presidential nominations but it did redraw the map of Black politics in some significant ways.

Black voters throughout the country – and particularly throughout the South– embraced the “new politic” message of the Barack Obama campaign.

In Georgia, Obama polled 88% of the Black vote, in Alabama 84%, in Arkansas74%, in Tennessee 77%. In the northeast, Obama polled 82% of the Black vote in New Jersey and 74% in Connecticut.

The most notable exception to this pattern was New York where Obama polled 61% of the Black vote, his lowest percentage of African American support in any February 5th state. There are obvious explanations for this differential. New York is Hillary Clinton’s home state—at least it became her home in 2000—and she and her husband (remember him? he’s the new invisible man) are the state’s most persuasive power brokers.

Just as Obama won his home state Illinois handily (64% to 33%), Hillary racked up a New York win (57% to 40%) over Obama by a smaller but still convincing margin.  She also carried New York City, where the majority of the state’s Black population resides, with Obama nearly outpolling her in Brooklyn, one of the city’s five boroughs and often the seat of Black political insurgencies.

Not surprisingly, Obama prevailed over Hillary in three congressional districts. Brooklyn’s 10th, represented by Congressman Ed Towns and 11th, represented by Congresswoman Yvette Clark, both of whom endorsed Clinton along with the 6th Congressional District in Queens represented by another Hillary-backer Congressman Greg Meeks.

These districts yield a good number of delegates for Obama, and the anti-machine campaigns were led by a rising group of progressive Black politicians – Councilman Charles Barron, State Senator Bill Perkins, State Senator Eric Adams and Assemblyman Karim Camara among them. 

In contrast, all of New York’s Black members of congress backed Hillary and helped produce her highest percentage of the Black vote anywhere in the country – 37%. In Harlem, the seat of the black establishment, represented by Congressman Charles Rangel, Hillary beat Obama by 7½ points.

Rev. Al Sharpton remained neutral, managing to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between the insurgent and establishment camps. In many respects the New York story could be cast as a simple one – man vs. machine – where the man, Barack Obama and his visionary campaign was outpolled by an entrenched and powerful urban political machine with deep roots in Harlem.

It would be that simple story but for the fact that the recent history of Black politics in New York City includes a massive and unexpected uprising against the clubhouse by Black voters. In 2005, 47% of Black voters rejected the Democratic Party mayoral candidate and voted for an Independent/Republican Mike Bloomberg instead. This outpouring against politics-as-usual and for nonpartisan political change briefly put New York in the national vanguard of a Black electoral revolution.

But on Super Tuesday, the roles were reversed. On February 5th, the Clinton machine fought back hard, making sure the Obama wave which swept the Black South was dissipated before it hit the Empire State.

Hillary repressed Obama’s share of the Black vote to well below the national average, making New York the rearguard of the larger sea change. The Brooklyn and Queens insurgencies kept the movement for Black political independence alive, while the most resounding call for “turn the page” black politics came from everywhere else in the country.

There was another “trend within the trend” which I, as an independent, not a Democrat  (I couldn’t vote on February 5th because New York is a closed primary state) noted with interest. That is the emergence of a discernible constituency – the Black independent. Exit polling picked up this trend for the first time on Super Tuesday. And here are what some of the numbers show.

In Massachusetts 33% of Black voters who cast ballots in the Democratic primary self-identified as independents. In Missouri it was 18%. In Connecticut the number was 22%, in California 14%, in New Jersey 13%, in Tennessee 17%.

Among Black independents, the support for Obama appears to have been astronomical. For example, in Georgia, where 12% of all African American voters in the Democratic primary were independents, 97% of those cast ballots for Obama.

From here, the presidential race moves on to hand-to-hand combat between Obama and Clinton for delegates. Meanwhile, new Black political voices are emerging, searching for a new paradigm, new partnerships and a new way of doing politics.

Dr. Fulani is America’s leading Black political independent. Based in New York, where she has been a key figure in the insurgent and independent scene, Dr. Fulani is also a developmental psychologist and innovator in the field of supplemental education.

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