Monday, April 6, 2009

The politics of race

ALBANY — When a piece of legislation proposed by state Rep. Ed Rynders in the Georgia House forced the issue of consolidation back into the consciousness of Dougherty Countians, politicians talked their way around the matter, citing economics, logistics and various other reasons as basis for their support or opposition.

While such talk made for good sound bites and no doubt struck a cord with constituents, the fact of the matter is the consolidation issue is, pure and simple, about race. Many blacks say consolidation of the city and county governments would dilute their hard-won political power, and more than a few whites believe them, even though a state consolidation redistricting plan obtained by The Herald shows that five of eight proposed districts would have an overwhelming African American majority and another would have only a 4 percent difference.

Long notoriously recognized as one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s rare “failures” during the civil rights era, Southwest Georgia’s largest city has a racial identity crisis whose stamp is on every facet of life. Political strategies, business plans, social functions and community projects are all planned with race — either directly or indirectly — serving as a determining factor.

“I’d say race issues are quite prominent here, more so than any place I’ve encountered in my professional career,” Albany City Manager Alfred Lott said. “Maybe it’s because of the isolation of the community, but it’s there and it’s a factor we all deal with.”

As Dougherty County’s population has shifted from a 66 percent white majority in the 1960 census to a 63 percent African American majority in 2007, and the county’s governing bodies have evolved to reflect the population shift, a sense of mistrust has been one of the byproducts.

Mayor Willie Adams, the city of Albany’s first African-American mayor, and two-term City Commissioner Tommie Postell voiced that mistrust during a discussion of consolidation at an Albany City Commission work session in 2007.

Adams, who won re-election in 2007 and has overseen, with Lott, city finances that have flourished in a severe economic downturn, said the “newness” of his race has subsided as he’s settled into the office. For more go to www.albanyherald.com

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