In my election, I got the most black votes in a ward that is predominantly black. So, I achieved one of my main goals. I just needed there to be a lot more of those votes! If my base had come out in force I would have won, and of course that was the plan.
I have been lamenting my fate, doing endless postmortems, re-checking the numbers, and making recriminations, but the fact is that there was no path to victory in the present environment. People here know what I stand for, and I am a polarizing figure.
This wasn’t Wesley Bell versus Lee Smith last year in Ward 3, for instance. They are both African-Americans, and both were viewed as change candidates. We liked Lee Smith, and it’s clear he would have been the better choice. Wesley authored the “Yes, but…” stipulations to the consent decree that initially got us sued by the United States of America. To be very blunt, and in a context in which a man such as Keith Kallstrom can continue to win in a ward that is almost 100 percent black, Wesley gets a pass for being black.
Ward 2 Ferguson is the seat of white power in this town. Tuesday, just under nine out of ten white voters gave their vote to the winner, Heather Robinett, who is white. The black voters split their votes three ways, and, despite outnumbering white voters more than two to one, twice as many of the latter actually cast ballots that day.
In 2013, voting rates for blacks and whites in the Ferguson municipal elections were six percent and seventeen percent, respectively. Since the uprising in the summer of 2014, (meaning last year’s elections), voting by both groups is up 350 percent. That’s great, but my folks started from nothing. (200 fewer African-Americans voted this year than last; my numbers aren’t exact!) We are basically playing catch-up, but at least we are doing it at the same rate.
It’s gratifying on several levels. I was a part of that. Energy, motivation, and interest in voting are up dramatically, but they are not up enough among my voters to be able to get anything done. We don’t throw our weight around. The black vote in this election was 100 percent inconsequential; it was not a factor in determining the winner. Again, of course, that WAS NOT part of the plan.
When one group is voting two out of three and the other is voting one out of five, you are ceding control to the minority. Heather Robinett didn’t win Ward 2; we gave it to her. It was all in our hands, but there are so many factors conspiring against me that it can’t be done, barring a few things I’m about to discuss.
I am poison to Fletcher/Robinett voters. I have gotten about seven percent of the white vote in two straight elections. It did not budge. I was not able to make any inroads with whites in two cycles.
Also, I’m disappointed that I didn’t do even better with black voters. They gave both Annette Jenkins (who is black), and Robinett substantial numbers of votes. Neither of them campaigned in any significant way, but they did it differently: Robinett had built-in white support; she essentially inherited all of the Fletcher vote. Annette didn’t work at all: she was a plant who was in the race at Mayor Knowles’ behest to take votes away from me. She did, but it still didn’t even matter.
The voting at First Baptist Church, where I vote, was a killer. For some reason, black voter turnout there was very low–twelve percent, if our count was accurate. Many of them went for Annette. I needed at least 200 votes out of there and I probably got forty. I must have done pitifully badly at First Presbyterian Church, an all-wards voting station, and at Lee Hamilton Elementary School.
I did kill it at Johnson-Wabash Elementary School, which services the northwest quadrant of Ferguson as a polling place. I got the lion’s share of my votes there. That’s where I posted up for the day. The Robinett’s gave up on that station at 3 pm that day.
It was a good way to go out. I felt so encouraged coming out of there, but I knew turnout was low. We knew from last year that Johnson-Wabash gave a skewed view of things, a too-rosy picture from our perspective. (I do best with the people north of Airport Road and west of Florissant Avenue.) We just didn’t think I would do so poorly at the other three polling places.
They placed these elections in April a long time ago to suppress voter turnout, and it really works. Many of my potential universe of voters vote only in November, if they vote at all. The first change we need to make is to move these things to November; that’s the first reform for which I shall fight.
I could not drive them out to the polls. Do you realize that if I had gotten four out of ten black voters to vote for me I would have won by 300 votes? I couldn’t lose! I would think about four out of ten on my morning walks.
There are approximately 840 black registered voters and 360 white registered voters who can vote at First Baptist. One hundred black voters turned up. Whites outvoted blacks at First Baptist three to one.
It would take $250,000 to win this ward as a protest candidate. That’s what it would take to get above fifty percent turnout among African-Americans in my ward. I would need a paid staff on salary for one year to do research, outreach, conduct seminars, etc. We would need money for big events. We would have to muster the greatest get-out-the-vote effort you have ever seen. I’m talking a fleet of shuttle buses running regularly through the day on the day of the vote. Get on the bus!
It would be outsized and controversial. It would also be unprecedented, and extremely unlikely. Where am I going to get that kind of money, and why wouldn’t I run for a higher office if I could? I have done this twice now, and I’m telling you that’s the way it is.
Whites will reliably turn out at a high rate to stop somebody like me. I can’t reverse history in two years by myself. I would need a team of successful pros; technicians who understand the task and can execute their plan. I champion the interests of the oppressed in Ferguson. So far, the African-American council members–Ella Jones, Wesley Bell, Dwayne James (outgoing), and new member Laverne Mitchom haven’t acted that way in office.
Voting is way up in Ward 2 Ferguson, among both groups, at almost exactly the same rate. Those are facts of which I can be proud. However, we have seen how important the City is in our lives. I would have thought that a year and a half after Mike Brown, the DOJ Report, and tax increases on the ballot, folks would come out in force. I had a year to work on this and I had better name recognition. I provided a level of constituent service that will probably be unmatched. It wasn’t nearly enough.
My first inclination was to throw in the towel. I said I’d never go to City Hall again. I have reconsidered. We have a democracy gap between blacks and whites that is a crisis. When the descendants of enslaved peoples comprise most of your town and they can’t access the levers of power; they can’t get what they need and want from their government, something is wrong, something is off, and it’s not just one thing, it’s a plethora of dilemmas. I will be talking to the Council about this democracy gap.
I have received so many thoughtful, kind messages from around the country. People have encouraged me to continue to fight for what is right. Maybe things weren’t closed off on Tuesday.
You have to understand what I was up against: history itself, that thing we don’t care about or respect.
I can hold my head high. I worked harder than I ever have, and the fact is that most people here like me and my program, they just don’t act on it. The other side–the minority–votes at historically much higher rates and they have been highly motivated against me. A lone insurgent calling for major change cannot beat a white, status quo candidate in this ward, barring massive infusions of cash, or compulsory voting.
I want to tell you about my friend, Tony. We have had our ups and downs, but we tight. He is a master of logistics, planning, and getting along with people. He inspires people to go above and beyond. He is the ultimate pragmatist.
Near the end of the day Tuesday, our trio of me, Tony, and Alicia came together at Johnson-Wabash. Tony would buttonhole a voter, take my flyer, and say to him or her, “This guy’s for US. See this man? He’s for US. I wouldn’t be out here if he wasn’t a good man.” It was very effective. I will cherish such memories, and I am so grateful to be his friend.
I asked him last night what was going on, and he said, “Everyone is tired and war torn.” The adrenaline has worn off and we have come down precipitously. I regret not being able to help these wonderful folks in Ferguson. Perhaps I will do that some other way.
I was a very good candidate for this particular job, if I do say so myself. I keep waiting for the world to settle up with me and become fair. I’m going to keep waiting, but, while I do, I won’t sulk and I will be busy.
Black Vote in Ward 2 Ferguson, April 5, 2016:
Hudgins-235; Jenkins-155; Robinett-155