Mayor Coleman’s- Report Card- B+
Whether you like Mike or not you must admit that his first term in office has been relatively smooth. Smooth is the operative word for this article. Mike…is smooth. Managing the affairs of this city would prove to be no small task for the most savvy of politicians. The constant need to balance the interests of special interests groups (who typically have agendas that conflict with the public interest) against those issues of public interest is enough to keep a person up at nights.
by Al Warner
July 21, 2003
As the first black mayor (more on that later) of this capitol city, Hizzoner has seemingly squelched the criticisms of those who challenged his readiness for the office. Anybody should know that most big cities’ mayors typically have either tumultuous first terms, or first terms that fade from memory. Coleman has been the exception in this case by providing a first term that actually (on the surface) would appear to be neither. Not much turmoil, but only a few notable situations that warrant a commitment to memory.
The over cautious mayor (of whom much is expected) has honed and polished his political skills during his first term. He has additionally surrounded himself with the usual political players. This may have been good advice for a first term mayor, however, if Mike’s legacy is to withstand the test of time, his second term should see (or better yet) has to see wholesale changes in the leadership team that he has assembled. Sturdy as they are, they mostly represent a traditional, conventional, stoic application to governing. Which in fact lacks imagination and creativity. Now, I will admit that the mayor has been relatively successful in his job. And, it’s not easy trying to please all of the people, all of the time.
As I ride around town I notice several things occurring, almost silently. And, they all were on the mayor’s (some would call limited) platform. His limited platform might well have been a stroke of genius. He never promised you a rose garden or sweeping social changes. He promised foremost to attend to the needs of communities, housing, city services etc. And, he has done just that. Not much more, but the man has kept his promises in a time when the city faces an unheard of budget crisis’ and revenue shortfalls.
Further, he has done it without much fanfare or community grumbling. I notice throughout the city, homes being boarded up and land ownership being transferred to people who actually have plans to avoid urban blight. Whether or not I agree with the personalities or strategies is unimportant. What is important is that things are happening, ever so quietly. That’s smooth. The city’s disaster readiness in the wake of 911 has been a bit hampered by money, but the planning has been on going and partnered with surrounding jurisdictions almost seamlessly, as to provide at least the sense of comfort for Columbus citizens. That’s smooth.
The mayor’s attention to saving and revitalizing an almost dormant downtown has been almost another stroke of magic. Many major cities are seeing the technology boon provide ample options to downtown office space. The result is almost a ghost town, downtown. That hasn’t happened here yet.
Though all can’t be done in a single term, Coleman seems to be adjusting to and growing into his role as mayor, and perhaps, just in time. Columbus is truly growing into a major city. Columbus enjoys one of the most diverse populations in the Midwest. Coleman has demonstrated consistent resolve and “manners” towards dealing with that reality, but the future trends indicate that he will have some very difficult decisions to make. Coleman’s second term must include actions that define him not only as a good mayor, but a good black mayor. In a city that is arguably 25% black, with blacks representing a disproportionate share of the poverty index and exclusion from access to opportunities (much to the thanks of the legislation of our esteemed general assembly), Coleman faces the challenge of accountability to not only all of the people, but HIS own people in particular. In an election where he will face no opponent, what does he have to lose?
Now, I will be the first to admit that Coleman has paid some attention to this concern. But he has done so, smoothly and without incident. In fact, he’s done this so smoothly that it may be difficult for the average observer to even notice that there has in fact been an increase (nominally) in minority (another word for black) participation. But, by and large it’s still the same old players who have benefited from the mayor’s benevolence. In Mike’s second term while he faces the incredible challenges of governing the country’s 15th largest city, I personally would like to see efforts made that clearly distinguish him as not only a good mayor, but a great black mayor. That can only happen if and when great substantive things start happening (on the whole) for his black constituency, and black people start experiencing a feeling of safety with him in office. These things can happen. They have happened all over the country where a first or second black mayor have been in charge for more than one term. Consider, Los Angeles (Bradley), Chicago (Washington, 1 term), New York (Dinkins), D.C. (Barry), Atlanta (Young, et.al) (especially), Philadelphia (Goode), Baltimore (Schmoke), (sorry I can’t say Detroit), and a host of other cities in which the mayors clearly understood that their people’s time was now. And that now, was the time to affect long awaited and anticipated change and programming.
Now once again, I can understand Mike’s careful navigation of this issue. After all, Columbus does enjoy ONLY a 25% black population. Additionally, voter registration and participation among our community is extremely low. Voter turnout has been bad over the past few election cycles, and there has been little demonstration that our community has ”had his back” when necessary. So with that, again he might be demonstrating a sense of political brilliance by not stirring the pot of dissent by using his power to overtly advance the affairs and issues of his own people. After all, who needs that headache? Paint the mayor’s office with a black brush when there seems to be no black people willing to help you paint it, (other than the anointed few politicos who have always benefited from the system, regardless of who’s in power), an Excedrin headache that’s not worth the trouble. So, how do we smooth this one? I have faith that Mike will find a way.
I can understand not wanting to be painted a black politician in today’s ultra-conservative, multi-culturally minded environment. I can understand it, though I might not agree with it. The mandates of power have always held that “Those who hold the gold, make the rules”. Why is that adage only challenged when it is a black person who holds the gold? Why is there such a dilemma in our community that feels when it’s our turn, it’s really everybody’s turn (in the interests of not appearing to have self interests), when clearly, when it’s NOT our turn, there are those who make certain that their own interests are served, oftentimes at our expense. Why is it wrong to say to, and ask of a black mayor to “take a chance” (after the election) and advance the agenda of his own community to the degree that it may not only take years to undo, but may even establish the foundation for his black successor. Oh yeah, I ‘m already thinking about who might be this city’s second black mayor. Any takers? Why is it wrong (to many) to be concerned about everybody, every tax payer, but to consider issues of equity, disenfranchisement and abrogation with regards to particular issues of your own culture during the exercise of your power? Only we (many black people) are challenged by…”how that might look.” You see this sentiment almost everywhere black folks are in power positions. Whispers and mumblings go on behind the scene about whether a decision or policy position will look or be regarded as black. Great efforts are made to spin issues as not to offend. Somebody needs to send these messages to the statehouse, because much of their behavior is damn offensive to me. There is almost a chronic self-loathing about being associated with blackness, because it is looked at as a deterrent, a mark or some other debilitating property.
Because most consider black a race, a color, instead of a culture that is steeped with an historical magnificence that is often omitted in history books. It becomes easier for many of us to shelter our own cultural and self-pride in exchange for being accepted and demonstrating a “fairness” of ideals and action. Shame on the black leader who actually says anything about advancing a black agenda. That could easily be a sign of political death. And Mike….is too smooth for that.
Some say that Coleman has his eye on the governor’s mansion and as such, can’t afford that type of political baggage. I would venture that the mayor’s sights are set on loftier political goals than governor, and as such, (as certain districts are constituted), he may not (for long) be able to avoid such baggage. One thing for sure though, he’s smooth. He is so smooth that most of Columbus (except the radical racists) view him as the mayor, absent of any race distinction. I guess for most, that is a comforting thing. I only wonder, is it really?
I believe that in the not too distant future Columbus will have the pleasure of electing an Hispanic mayor. I wonder what the expectations of that mayor will be with regards to his/her own community’s needs? One thing for sure, unlike our community, the Hispanic community has little tolerance for “one of their own” assimilating away from the agenda of their own community. Is there a lesson to be learned here? Perhaps.
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