Because of term limits in which the City of St. Petersburg’s elected officials respect, Councilman Wengay Newton will be replaced in November 2015 by one of the four or more individuals vying for one of the two coveted seats typically held by an African American.
Trail blazers such as the late Attorney Morris Milton and other civil rights activist thought by having a black face on public governing boards, African Americans would have a voice that would equate to them receiving equal access to public resources.
The thought was sound for the times and stood to reason, in light of the fact when it’s time for the Pinellas County tax assessor to send their yearly tax obligation, they do not conduct a racial and ethnic search that relieves African Americans and other minorities of their responsibilities to pay taxes. Well, that was the thought.
However, like life often does, the best-laid plans can go awry when single identifiers such as race, ethnicity, religious preference, political party and sexual orientation serve as the sole basis for electing candidates.
In 2015 and beyond it is going to be imperative that African-American voters take the opportunity to not only focus on voting and urging others to do the same, but also to become more educated about candidates in terms of their track records relative to the issues they profess to be passionate about.
The one thing we can count on about human nature if an individual has never been a visible activist for early childhood education, livable wages, wellness of a community is that chances are if elected that individual will continue to do what they have always done, nothing!
The African-American voter can no longer depend solely on one’s self-identifiers as the basis for selecting their candidates, particularly when there is a projected $66,801,797 tax increment financing projected to come to the Midtown and Childs Park communities by 2045. This funding will also be linked to other sources of public money. While that may seem like a long time off, trust me there are already those who are positioning themselves at the trough to swoop down and collect revenues that were targeted to impact low-income communities.
A few tips for African Americans to consider when voting during the upcoming elections:
• Do not fall for the hype posted on glossy handouts with photo finished family photos.
• Make it your business to attend a candidate forum held in the black community and one held in a predominantly white community. Do not forget to take your tape recording devices, because often times you may think you are listening to two different candidates.
• Be very cautious about who others offer up as the person you should vote for, you make the choice based on your family and community’s needs.
• Go on the city’s and Supervisor of Election website and follow the money. Remember candidates have to pay the piper who paid them. The Times wrote an editorial piece quoting one of the Koch brothers’ bold statements about how they influence Florida politics—they were not lying! The payoff from poverty initiatives is just as lucrative as some investment strategies within the private sector.
• Stay away from candidates who do not have a track record of public service. As a certified public manager I am shocked when I find individuals running for public office and they have limited or no experience within the public sector. Issues within the public sector are complex; the needs and demands of citizens are high and resources are limited. We must begin to elect candidates that can strike a balance between understanding the bottom line and public accountability.
• Be leery of perfect candidates! If you are a viable candidate you must have had some hills to climb from some deep falls, the story is in what tools you used to pull yourself up and prepare you to represent me!
• Last but not least. I talk about “emotional intelligence” often times in discussions about leaders in the public sector whether they are appointed, elected or anointed. One of the many core competencies a public leader must possess is the ability to manage their emotions and govern themselves as leaders who can accept critiques of their public work without developing an all-out war with any constituent who does not sing their praises or who opposes their public decisions.
Managing public sector policies and budgets is a major juggling act and leaders who want to earn the legacy of being effective at public management must consistently and continuously develop this core competency.
~ Maria L. Scruggs