Bankole: Detroit pastors take sides in governor’s race
In the midst of a heated 2005 mayoral campaign, where challenger Freman Hendrix was expected to win, then-incumbent Kwame Kilpatrick boldly declared in a radio commercial that Detroit was a city of God.
The genius of that political move was one of several factors that helped the former mayor win a tough re-election battle because he was able to instantly galvanize the support of pastors in the city. Kilpatrick made it a central point of his campaign to paint Hendrix as the representative of some outside interests seeking control of the city.
That election was an instructive reminder of how ministers are still powerful gateways to the black community, whether you like or dislike their politics. It explains why candidates seeking office are always rushing to churches for support. The pulpits have become the most prized platforms to speak from during campaign season.
This year’s gubernatorial election is no different as both Republican and Democratic nominees Bill Schuette and Gretchen Whitmer crisscross the city to seek the blessings of ministers. In fact, both candidates appeared earlier this month at Historic Little Rock Baptist Church where the pastor, Jim Holley, endorsed Schuette.
But how Detroit churches will help determine the outcome of the governor's race remains an open question. Several pastors say they are not sitting on the fence this time around.
“We gave our support to Gretchen Whitmer in the primary and that will continue in the general election,” said the Rev. Steve Bland Jr., first vice president of the Detroit Council of Baptist Pastors and senior pastor of Liberty Temple Baptist Church. The group, which has a membership of several hundred churches, has a history of deciding elections in Detroit and serving as a conscientious voice on social issues.
“We are not taking anything for granted in this election. We are hoping to get people out to vote and increase voter participation by 30 percent,” Bland said. “Our efforts right now are going to be voter turnout. We cannot afford to ignore the issues that our people are dealing with like livable wage, good schools, etc.”
Bland, who is currently acting as interim president of the religious group because its president, the Rev. Dee Dee Coleman, is on sick leave, said the council was taken aback by Whitmer’s choice of Garlin Gilchrist II as running mate.
“We thought she was going to go with Sheriff Benny Napoleon because he brought and introduced her to the council,” Bland said. “We first became aware of Whitmer through Napoleon. We had wished that Napoleon was the one selected because that was the thinking of a lot of individual pastors.”
But Bland said Gilchrist will now get the group’s support.
“Our support will go in the direction of the ticket. I know Gilchrist. He came to us when he ran for city clerk. He brings a balance and a generation that has been excluded in the past from the ticket.”
He said Democrats cannot afford to be divided.
“We will not put more energy in trying to combat her choice of a lieutenant governor,” Bland said. “We wish we were consulted before she made the decision. But we can’t at the same time blame Gilchrist for just getting here. We do believe that with the right support he can become an asset to the ticket, especially with his social media and technological experience.”
He added, “The best available option for this race right now is Gretchen Whitmer because she has the track record. Anyone who has received the full support of President Trump we believe has an agenda that will be detrimental to our community.”
Holley disagrees in a recent column about Schuette.
“Schuette will take his leadership skills to Lansing to get all Michiganders lower insurance rates and fix our roads. I encourage Detroiters, community leaders and faithleaders throughout Michigan to do your research and be a part of the paycheck movement,” he wrote.
However, the Rev. Nicholas Hood III of Plymouth United Church of Christ, who hosted a rally on Monday for Whitmer, says the choices are clear.
“I don’t think we would have the Flint water crisis had we had Whitmer in office,” Hood said. “She has the character and the background to deal with the issues. That’s why people like me had to be involved now in this campaign.”
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