Politics sometimes is more about optics than the underlying issues defining a campaign.
The saying that perception is stronger than reality often carries weight with voters because people tend to believe what they see.
Mayor Mike Duggan did just that days before the primary election by securing the endorsement of the Black Slate, a longstanding political organization in Detroit that has advocated for African-American political empowerment.
During the heyday of the civil rights movement, the group commanded incredible influence under its leader, the late Bishop Albert B. Cleage, who created the Black Slate as the political arm of his church, the Shrine of the Black Madonna. The church’s mission ever since has been espousing black Christian liberation theology mixed with nationalism.
The group announced its endorsement of Duggan on Aug. 2 at its offices on 700 Seward at an event attended by the mayor.
Why is this important?
The Black Slate was key in the groundbreaking election of Coleman A. Young as the city’s first black mayor.
Decades later, the group is endorsing Duggan for a second term instead of state Sen. Coleman Young II, who wants to follow in the steps of his father who was a staunch ally of the Black Slate.
Whether you agree with it or not the endorsement stings and is a counterweight to Young II’s argument that African-Americans are being left behind in Detroit’s renaissance.
Coming the week before the primary, the endorsement is a forceful attempt to mute the race question as Duggan can proudly tell his supporters, including downtown business leaders, that some custodians of black politics in Detroit don’t necessarily share his opponent’s view.
While the endorsement does not negate the realities on the ground — such as the deep economic anxiety among many residents, the everyday nightmare of crime and the fact that many of the city’s children live in poverty — it puts Duggan in a good place.
“It was a tough decision,” said the Rev. Baye Landy, regional coordinator of the Black Slate. “We had a white man and a black man. Our committee after interviewing both candidates decided that we should go with Mayor Duggan because we need to continue to move forward as a city.
“Also, we felt responsible to be involved in what is happening (and) not just be on the outskirts complaining.”
The group wants “to be in the mayor’s circle so we can be a listening ear in the community and to hold him accountable for what is not happening.”
The group has met three times with Duggan since the endorsement interviews, Landy said, and more meetings are planned. Among the issues raised were ending the water shutoffs program, the need for more black contractors in the city’s revitalization efforts and bringing back neighborhoods not currently targeted for development.
“At this point, we think it is more effective to be with Mike Duggan as opposed to doing the heavy lifting to bring Coleman Young II on board,” Landy said.
He said it is not lost on him that they were going against the son of the city’s first black mayor.
“We have respect for the late Mayor Young. We also respect Sen. Young II. In fact, we endorsed Young II for every office he ran for. But even though he has accomplished some things, he is not prepared to be mayor,” Landy said. “He is not as prepared as his father was.”
Young II campaign manager Adolph Mongo dismissed the endorsement.
“The Black Slate is a disgrace to the memory of all those leaders, including (group founder) Jeramogi Abebe Agyeman who fought for black empowerment in the ’60s. It is a disgrace to the memory of Coleman Young,” Mongo said. “This endorsement makes them irrelevant. We have the best candidate.”
Mongo and the campaign saw this endorsement as a huge disappointment because Young II spoke to members of the Shrine of the Black Madonna about the state of the city days before he announced his mayoral bid.
However, the true test lies in what voters decide in Tuesday’s primary and subsequently in the general election.
The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.