Linn Washington Jr. is an award-winning journalist who writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Tribune. A graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship, Washington writes regularly on issues involving law, the criminal justice system, news media and inequities involving race and/or class. This ’information junkie’ teaches multi-media urban reporting at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. He lives in New Jersey and frequently travels abroad.
The Other Afrik - United States - Panafrica - Politics - Religion
Pastoral political Endorsements: Essential or Irrelevant?
We saw the smiles beaming during that photo-op press conference and we heard the words employed in making that political endorsement. But what we neither saw nor heard during that recent press conference where Philadelphia’s Black Clergy announced its endorsement of Mayor Michael Nutter’s reelection were details on what the clergy group got from Nutter.
Not getting specific commitments from a candidate in exchange for that candidate receiving coveted support from an organization representing 400 local churches is… well, not sophisticated politics.
Politics is quintessentially quid pro quo – in this instance getting something in return for an endorsement... something beyond press conference coverage.
It is naďve if not nonsensical for the esteemed and influential Black Clergy to give its valued endorsement to Nutter without getting anything in return from him.
But, according to knowledgeable insiders, the Clergy group just gave it away… getting nothing definitive in return for their endorsement… nothing for either the black community at-large or the Clergy’s respective congregations.
Playing in major league hardball politics with a Little League mentality is beyond laughable.
Businesses and business groups like Chambers of Commerce do not give endorsements and/or contributions without getting commitments from the anointed candidate for advancing their specialized agenda.
Unions do not give political endorsements and/or campaign contributions without extracting commitments from candidates to pursue interests of importance to those unions.
For many, bestowing a political endorsement and not even getting a bowl of beans in return further muddies the problematic procedure of ministers wading into the muck of politics with endorsements when their access point for influencing political directions should be from the loftier plane of moral suasion… enforceable by the foot soldiers from their pews.
That ‘many’ includes some clergy dissatisfied with the spectacle of showering endorsements that accrue too few tangible benefits for the black community.
Now, if those insiders are inaccurate and the Black Clergy group did obtain quid pro quo commitments from Nutter what are the details and why is that important information kept confidential?
Sure, business, labor and others routinely keep their endorsement arrangements off-the-record but shouldn’t clergy members have a higher commitment to transparency?
If the Black Clergy was at a little loss for fashioning an agenda for the basis of its endorsement there was no need to reinvent the wheel.
The “African American Mayoral Platform” released locally in March 1998 included elements still applicable today, like stating that the “next mayor must invest in the people.”
That Platform termed the problems of Philadelphia’s poor people “severe.” The severe, multi-faceted problems pounding the poor referenced in that Platform issued over a decade ago have increased – an escalation of misery clergy certainly observed.
The Clergy credited Nutter for doing a “remarkable job” given the nation’s economic crisis that has “crippled countless cities…”
So if the Clergy group deemed Nutter as doing remarkably well with financial juggling in these tough economic times why didn’t they push the Mayor to the next step of accelerating efforts specifically for assisting the poor?
Helping the poor is not only the proper thing for ministers to do morally, it makes fiscal sense given the City’s expenditures for dealing with poverty related issues.
Poverty related matters consumed a big chunk of the $591-million City Hall spent on its Department of Human Services in Fiscal Year 2010 – the largest budget category followed by police at $522-million.
Lessening levels of poverty would lessen the dollars DHS needs to spend handling poverty related problems… and dollars for policing.
On the issue of education, that 1998 Platform presented a standard that mayors “must convince businesses that an improved education system is good for the economy of the city and region.”
The Clergy could have gotten commitments from Nutter that his desired reforms for business taxes carry the quid pro quo of having business benefitting from tax cuts, hire public school grads, and/or adopt a public school providing various kinds of assistance.
The Clergy credited Nutter with cutting crime. Police Department statics show a three percent decrease in total violent crime during the past year. Yet, during the time frame of the weeks immediately before and after the Clergy’s endorsement announcement there were 33 murders in the city, 48 rapes, 202 gun point robberies, 579 house burglaries and 842 thefts from cars.
Certainly some of those crimes impacted congregants of Clergy churches either directly or indirectly.
That 1998 Platform called for recognizing the reality that it’s more effective to use “devise creative methods to prevent crime” than responding “to effects of crime” – like Nutter’s controversial Stop-&-Frisk policing program that rousted a quarter-million in 2009 with 72-percent being African-American netting few arrests.
If the Black Clergy didn’t want to dirty its collective hands with demanding a quid pro quo commitment it could have facilitated implementation of a recommendation contained in the “Human Rights Agenda” formulated by the Black Political Convention held in Philadelphia during late December 1978 and early January 1979.
That recommendation called for accountability from elected officials suggesting “monthly” meetings to monitor accountability – meetings churches are well situated to hold.
Questioning the Black Clergy’s endorsement is not saying that Mayor Nutter is unworthy of its receipt.
Nor is questioning the propriety of Clergy giving endorsements questioning the validity of that organization whose social justice stances are solid.
Questioning suggests utilizing more savvy…
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