Three majority black towns in the Mississippi Delta--Greenville, Greenwood and Indianola--have elected white mayors over the past few years. The New York Times reports that this is remarkable given that Mississippi, the U.S. state with the highest portion of blacks, has elected more African-American officials than any other.
In Greenville, Greenwood and Indianola, which are all at least 65 percent of black, pressing issues involving public education, city maintenance and waning populations have made race a non-factor in recent elections. Instead, the unique personal qualities of the mayoral candidates set them apart. Chuck Jordan, mayor of Greenville until his death from pancreatic cancer last month, stood out for being well connected in the community of 34,000 residents. "He knew the local businesses and was appreciated by both black and white citizens," the Times reports. "As one black woman in Greenville said, 'He knows people.' His zeal for the community was new and infectious, and he won over two-thirds of the vote in his 2011 mayoral race against a black candidate." It's safe to say that Jordan made inroads in the black community by being well versed in racial sensitivity and effectively communicating with the African Americans he encountered.
Meanwhile Steven Rosenthal, the Jewish mayor of Indianola, distinguished himself because his family owned a dry goods store in the 10,600 community that made them well known to the residents. Carolyn McAdams, mayor of Greenwood (population 15,000) also earned favor in the black community because she was in frequent contact with African Americans, thanks to her career in accounting and housing.
Is it remarkable that these towns, all of which experienced the civil rights movement firsthand, have put the racial tensions of the past aside to vote across racial lines? I'm not sure, but that's simply because African Americans have long voted white politicians into office. This is one of the reasons I never understood the accusation that blacks voted for Barack Obama simply because of race. After all, 90 percent of blacks voted for Al Gore in 2000 and 88 percent of blacks voted for John Kerry in 2004. That said, I do understand that Times opinion contributor Gene Dattel thinks what's happening in Mississippi is significant because the racial divisions in the Delta region run so deep that blacks could have shut out whites politically now that they have the power to do so. Instead, blacks are overlooking race to vote in the best interests of their communities. But that's not all. Dattel writes:
"These elections illustrate that personal relationships can supersede race in a highly partisan time, when black and white too often become proxies for left and right. Of course, it took near-crisis situations to break the political status quo, and it may not happen again. But for once, race mattered less than community, in the least-expected place."