Worcester Telegram: Blacks typically taken for granted by Democrats
By: Clive McFarlane
Nika Elugardo said she held her nose the first time she voted. It was in 1992. She was 19, and Bill Clinton was the Democratic presidential nominee.
“I was sick to my stomach, because I hated his policies on race,” she said in an appearance on WGBH’s “Basic Black” following her stunning mid-term electoral victory in the 15th Suffolk/Norfolk District over Jeffrey Sanchez, veteran Democratic state lawmaker and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
“I hated his polices on so-called welfare, and I hated his polices on criminal justice.”
That’s been the bane of the African-American experience with the modern-day Democratic Party. The party doesn’t treat them right, but jumping ship would be like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. So people like Ms. Elugardo stayed and held their nose.
Well, that might be changing.
The 2018 mid-term elections might have been a referendum on President Donald Trump and his policies, but they were also a gut-check for the Democratic Party, which saw an infusion of young, progressive voices, most of them women and many of them African-Americans, and some who are unapologetic in their criticism of the party.
Many note that their rise to power came without the backing of the party machine and suggest that one of their mandates is to push the party to be inclusive in its deeds, rather than just in its rhetoric.
“What needs to be said in a very straightforward way is that the Democratic Party is straight-up racist,” Ms. Elugardo said during her WGBH appearance.
“The structural racism that we’re talking about dismantling is in the party.”
Liz Miranda, the community organizer who won the 5th Suffolk District seat, also spoke in that same WGBH event to what she believed to have been the lack of support from the state Democratic party.
“I think the Democratic Party of our commonwealth and the country needs to take a look at themselves,” she said, saying that she and others won without major support from them during the primary.
“I’m Democrat. I am gung-ho for the party, but you see yourself fighting against the system that is supposed to support you.”
So far the party brass has responded understandingly.
At a fundraiser earlier this year, Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, apologized for the party taking African-Americans for granted.
“I am sorry,” he said. “We took too many people for granted and African-Americans - our most loyal constituency - we all too frequently took for granted. That is a shame on us, folks, and for that I apologize. And for that I say, it will never happen again.”
Gus Bickford, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, was singled out by Rachael Rollins, winner of the Suffolk district attorney’s race, as not doing enough to help her candidacy. She noted, for example, that campaign literature that the party had her passing out did not include her or others like Ms. Miranda.
“We are working every day to build a more inclusive and representative Party here in Massachusetts, and we always welcome constructive feedback on how we can do that better,” Mr. Bickford told me in an email.
“We are immensely proud that the slate of Democratic candidates elected earlier this month is among the most diverse in our state’s history, and we look forward to working with them to hold ourselves accountable and continue fighting for every community here in the Commonwealth - including communities of color.”
Congressman Jim McGovern, who in 2006 bucked the state’s party machinery by being the first high-profile politician to endorse the successful candidacy of then political unknown Deval Patrick for governor, said the criticism of the party is warranted.
“The party has taken African-Americans for granted, and we need to build an inclusive and diverse party that involves people from the top down. Business as usual has to end,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
“I have felt that way for a long time. We need to listen to what our critics are saying, and make it better. If not, we are going to lose our constituencies.
“Sometimes it is difficult for someone running the show to admit they can do things better. That is a challenge we need to overcome. We ask for their votes, but when decisions are being made, they are not a priority; they are not always at the table. That needs to change.”
Utah’s Mia Love, the first black Republican woman to serve in Congress and who lost her re-election bid this year to a Democrat, perhaps best captured the dynamics of party politics and minority constituents.
“This election experience ... shines a spotlight on the problems Washington politicians have with minorities and black Americans - it’s transactional. It’s not personal,” she said.
“We feel like politicians claim they know what’s best for us from a safe distance yet they’re never willing to take us home.”
We’ll see if that changes in the next two years, but one thing is for sure, if you are a Democratic incumbent looking toward re-election in 2020, you should know you’ve been put on notice by your most loyal constituency.