“There are two things you need for success in politics. Money, and I can’t think of the other,” was Senator Mark Hannah’s (R-OH) analysis in 1903 and it pretty much held true until Bloomberg spent $100 million dollars and barely eked out a victory over William Thompson.
Mayor David Dinkins had called it exactly right at a Manhattan fundraiser five days before the election when he spoke about the polls as “nonsense” and insisted that Thompson can win. “Bill Thompson is in a win-win position,” said the former mayor of New York. “First of all, the very worst that can happen is that he would lose by a certain margin. Were that to occur, it will be a far smaller margin than is anticipated by the pollsters and by Mayor Bloomberg. That alone is a victory.”
And yet the story could have had such a different ending if more people had kept the faith, but that was not to be, most embarrassingly in the Black church. The late Reverend William Augustus Jones of Bethany Baptist Church used to say, “You eat the king’s meat, you do the king’s bidding.” And that continues to hold true as shown by the wide support Mayor Bloomberg was given by the so-called leaders of the religious establishment and those who want to join them. During slavery, the church was a place away from the master, where destinies could be determined outside of his control. Begun as a pacifier, it became a conduit for strength and freedom. During Reconstruction, the church was a place of safety and personal development. The church was a place where a Civil Rights Movement could come to life and change the nation.
Today, too many churches have become conduits for the master’s dollars and have returned to the role of pacifier of the masses. There is no more interest in advancing African-Americans, only in building a Development Corporation into a local empire and buying a really good-looking suit.
And these ministers have no shame in their game. After all, they are only doing what is pragmatic. “You do have to get cooperation from city agencies in order to get things done,” said Rev. A.R. Bernard, Sr. the pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn. “Everything I have ever called on, his people called right back, and been supportive,” said Rev. Floyd H. Flake, the pastor of the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Queens.
“We have to come to his foundation sooner or later,” said the Rev. Timothy Birkett, pastor of the Church Alive Community Church in the Bronx who is backing the mayor this year. “We hope that he will be receptive.” These hat-in-hand quotes in the New York Times on October 28th are aptly characterized by Reverend Clinton M. Miller of Brown Memorial Baptist Church when he said, “Some of these endorsements that we see are indicative of a faith statement by some of our religious leaders…The statement is, who do I trust more, in terms of how I am going to get my projects done? The choice is between a municipality and God.”
Had these pastors been centered on continuing their role of guiding their congregations on the road to liberation, they would have used their offices as a base for Bill Thompson, eschewing the “king’s meat” and growing their own by standing together and demonstrating to young people that you can walk your own way. Had they acted in the faith that took us through the hard times rather than in fear and self-interest, they’d have gotten either their planned project anyway or a different one when Thompson became mayor. They could also have been instrumental in African-Americans regaining control of the education of their children. They could have ushered in a return to the Dinkins-era of minority contracting programs when small businesses thrived on city contracts. They would have helped their congregations to earn the living that would allow them to care for their elders in their own multigenerational households in homes they owned rather than giving them over to a senior program supplied with master’s money. They would have shown that their air of dignity and respect was deserved, and not just the theatrical posturing of well-dressed minstrels sent out to perform every Sunday to the willingly blind. We miss you Reverend Jones.
When term limits were enacted, there was a rush of candidates in the 36th Council District and we got a taste of what 2012 will look like, with candidates popping up wanting to run because it seems like a good idea. We hope those who are thinking of running will spend these intervening years not merely showing up at meetings, but doing actual work, giving real time to community issues and programs and showing the vision and leadership that will set them apart at the next election.