Black Agenda - Hijacked
John E. Harmon, Sr., IOM | 11/9/2017, 6:22 p.m.
By the time you read this column, the citizens of New Jersey will have elected its next governor. If it were not for the campaign ads running in the closings days during the month of October many would not have known that there was an actual race for governor occurring. Additionally, all of New Jersey’s legislators were up for reelection. Particularly in communities where the predominate population are people of color. In most of these districts, the current office holders are pretty secure and are not overly pressed to campaign to defend their record of success or lack thereof. We call these sectors of the community, safe districts. Like clockwork, the lawn sides usually appear magically just days before the actual election coupled with an organized grassroots effort to get out the vote. The get out the vote campaigns are not designed to awake the disengaged voter, i.e., when then Senator Barack Obama ran for president. These types of voter turnout strategies, could potentially upset the status quo, or unseat an incumbent; which would be an unintended consequence. Some would say, why are there not more debates or small group meetings with community stakeholders to provide more information on their platforms and to draw a contrast between candidates, my response, it does not align with their strategy of maintaining the status quo and retaining their seat of influence.
Much of the dollars to fund the campaigns of democratic incumbents come largely from labor unions and large donors, whom later in return receive the professional services contracts; i.e., legal services, engineering, architects, insurance (liability, health benefits, Workmen’s Compensation), these opportunities typically do not require a bid only response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) with the winner hand- picked. To confirm my premise, all that one has to do is compare the donor files of an elected official to the contract awardees which can be found either on the docket at a Council or School Board meeting. This information can also be found in the public domain. Furthermore, there is some correlation between donors and recipients of contracts for goods and services; supplies, materials, street and infrastructure repairs through the review of public records. This is not an unknown fact in the communities that I have described.
On the other hand if there were more engagement with the voters, community stakeholders could become more informed and perhaps seek greater accountability, transparency and clarity on how a candidate’s platform represents their interest. This is a significant area of concern for the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, which is why; during our recent Business Leadership Conference we had both gubernatorial candidates present, representing the Democratic and Republican parties respectively. Each candidate was given equal time to make their case directly to our members and attendees, in a manner akin to democracy. As citizens and taxpayers of New Jersey, the African American community seeks to leverage equal representation at a minimum. In several of my previous articles I not only have stated that African Americans have the highest poverty and level of unemployment, least capacity in their business enterprises and struggle daily to access capital to support their business ideas. Each of the aforementioned issues represent an item for an agenda that should command an audience with either a candidate seeking office or an opportunity to challenge an incumbent to ensure there is substantive engagement to find solutions to mitigate these systemic challenges and structural impediments for African Americans.