Bankole: Can Whitmer, Gilchrist excite black voters?

Bankole Thompson

Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic nominee for governor, has placed her bet on Garlin Gilchrist II, former head of innovation and technology for Detroit, as the right choice to be second in command of the state of Michigan. A candidate with no elected leadership experience to be trusted with the well-being of millions of Michiganders in all objectivity remains a risky bet.

Even inside the Democratic Party, some will support the ticket only because Bill Schuette, the Republican nominee, is not an option. They see Schuette, a strong Trump supporter, as a frightening choice because of his seeming embrace of what they believe to be anti-black, anti-poor policies of the Trump era. 

But for Democrats, will this ticket be so exciting to drive up massive black voter turnout in Detroit and other urban centers?

The issue is not that Whitmer chose a young black male as her running mate. Gilchrist, 35, is a talented guy and like other young blacks, he is worthy of further investment into his political stock. In fact, I knew him before he ran for the office of Detroit city clerk. 

When he was in Washington, D.C., as a campaign director for, he and I would meet for coffee downtown whenever he was in town visiting to talk about the city. I’ve had an up-close view of his trajectory including when he decided to make his first run for elected office.

It was on my radio show on 910AM that he first announced his candidacy for city clerk. Anyone from the black community would love to see young African-Americans aspire to the highest political office. Gilchrist is not an exception. That is why his supporters are proud of his latest political ascent.

The issue looming large over this selection is whether it was done simply to appease the voices crying for diversity in the party and to pacify black voters at all costs because they will have to vote for a Democrat anyway. They have nowhere to go, especially after Schuette has proven not to be an ally to black issues like affirmative action, the Affordable Care Act, redistricting that has longstanding racial implications and other crucial matters.

Whitmer made this decision knowing blacks are more likely going to vote Democrat. That leads to another open question: was this the best pick for black interests that have always taken a back seat in Democratic politics?

Think about the other two possible nominees who were under consideration: Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and Flint state Rep. Sheldon Neeley. They have a track record of fighting for black interests and measurable equity in the black community. For example, Neeley took Schuette on regarding the Flint water crisis as the first lawmaker to ask for an official investigation into the saga, which the attorney general initially declined until the national media arrived.

What Whitmer has done is put black voters in a bind. They are almost emotionally obligated to support a promising young black male on the Democratic ticket. Period.

However, what is most revealing about this selection is that Whitmer’s campaign staged the announcement in Lansing, not Detroit, Gilchrist’s hometown and the largest black Democratic base in the state. If this pick genuinely had Detroiters' interests at heart, there is no reason why it shouldn’t have been held in Detroit, the longstanding favorite of Democratic bait-and-switch politics.

“We have a right to challenge checkbox government and selections,” said Chris White, a longtime Detroit political historian. “When a Detroit resident is selected to be the nominee and the event isn’t held in Detroit after you lost the city in the primary, it sends the wrong message.”

Bankole writes: "The challenge for Gilchrist now is to quickly demonstrate he isn’t just a token on a ticket that was begging for diversity."

He added, “The event was almost as if it was rushed to say OK, we took care of the black/progressive problem.”

Sam Riddle, a veteran political strategist who sounded the alarm earlier that Trump would win Michigan in 2016, is concerned.

“The announcement should have been from Flint to remind voters of GOP failures on Flint water and Detroit schools,” Riddle said. “Whitmer and Gilchrist should have been walking the north side of Flint or east side of Detroit.”

For those who understand how the party panders to black voters during elections without anything concrete in return, the Lansing announcement of Gilchrist instead of Detroit was the latest prima facie evidence that Democrats, with their mask of inclusivity, show a callous disregard for black interests. And the challenge for Gilchrist now is to quickly demonstrate he isn’t just a token on a ticket that was begging for diversity.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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