Thingish Things

When the Fire Goes Out

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Sep• 22•11



On Election Day 1989, while working ballot security in Harlem for the mayoral campaign of Republican Rudy Giuliani, I saw the most extraordinary thing.   I was in the passenger seat of a car stopped at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue as an African-American volunteer for the Democratic candidate, David Dinkins, carried an elderly black woman in front of my car and across the Avenue toward her polling place.  It was all I could do not to bust out crying.

It was a competitive election, and I remember thinking “how do you compete with that?” Well, you cannot. David Dinkins went on to become the first black mayor in New York City history. All day that day I had been in a partisan mindset. I had volunteered at Mr. Giuliani’s Rockefeller Center headquarters for months.  But seeing the look on that old woman’s face — the pride — made losing later that night at the old Roosevelt Hotel ballroom a heck of a lot easier.

My friend and Obama supporter Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post penned a piece today that reminded me of that day 22 years ago. But his column was focused on a day four years later when, after a disastrous term as mayor, African-American voters failed to turn out in the numbers they did in 1989 to re-elect Mayor Dinkins.  Mayor Giuliani won handily on Election Day 1993 in a heavily Democratic city. There has not been a Democratic mayor of New York since.

Mr. Capehart, who later helped advise businessman Mike Bloomberg to his own mayoralty, writes of the stunning loss of ardent support for President Obama in the African-American community. In April, President Obama had an 83% “strong approval” rating among black voters, according to Gallup.  That number is down to 58% today.  

Writes Capehart: 

“If African Americans don’t show up at the polls in November 2012, Obama could go the way of David Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York City. The parallels between the environment faced by Dinkins during his mayoralty and Obama during his presidency are noteworthy.”

Judging by the economic trajectory we are on now, and President Obama’s fecklessness of late, I cannot imagine him doing anything so inspirational between now and November 2012 to warrant a repeat of what I once witnessed on a Harlem street corner. 

I wish I had taken a picture. It was a sight to see.  

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