Friday, January 06, 2006

Rise of the Black Republicans (?)

Former Pittsburgh Steelers legend and football commentator Lynn Swann announced his candidacy for Governor of Pennsylvania. Admittedly, we'd like to see a lot more of this: financially secure and retired star African American athletes getting into politics, either donating money, raising money, endorsing or running. It's healthy and it's certainly more productive than opening up car dealerships or putting retired numbers on sneakers. Plus, we miss the activism of giants like Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson and Jim Brown, who fearlessly articulated political and social vision.

Swann is going Republican - which reflects a growing surge of prominent Black politicos or public figures seeking elected office on a GOP ticket. Does this necessarily represent the sudden shifting of Black voters en masse to the Republican party? Frankly, we don't see that happening anytime soon. Black voters, however, are becoming more independent and level-headed about their political choices, with signs of maturation showing the search for fresh, 21st century substance over outdated civil rights paradigm style. It's more about the candidate than it is about the party ...

There is a possibility that the Republican National Committee may be catching on by recruiting qualified African American candidates with media savvy, personal appeal and established track records of respectability within their communities. Firebrand Black conservative dinosaurs of the Right such as Armstrong Williams, Ward Connerly and Alan Keyes are fossilized in favor of a more attractive and moderate approach - but, with the White Religious Right's domination of the GOP, full realization will be very slow and painful.

Which brings us to our analysis of Swann. Current Governor & former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell (D) should be very nervous because Swann could pull this off in 2006 - he's got public persona and his political action committee has been raising solid funds for over a year. Plus, with Swann hailing from Pittsburgh and representing the Golden Age of its most iconic social institution, the Steelers, he can pick up the Western half of the state - where Rendell is not liked (but that's nothing new in this geographically Balkanized battlegroud where East and West can never seem to find common political ground). We do predict Swann clinching his party's nomination in '06.

But Swann needs to run this campaign with a very fresh, new school style if he has any chance of winning. For example, we burst into grunts of disappointment when we read this in the linked AP piece:

Swann said Wednesday that he hopes to convince blacks that he is a better candidate than Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor. The Democratic Party has "taken the African American vote for granted," Swann said.

That quote is THE most overused, condescending, tired, stale and abused line in the history of Black Republican activism in the 20th century. It never resonated with Black voters and it never will. Our advice to Swann: drop it & immediately hire a new communications director - talk about what you can do to revive neighborhoods, jobs and healthcare for Black folks in cities like Pitt and Philly. A Rendell/Swann match-up will be bloody, but Swann will have a figthing chance if he abandons antique themes.