Giving our African American politicians a clear agenda

I beg to differ on Ron Sims.

Now that the election is over and Ron Sims has been re-elected as county executive, it's time to flat out admit that Sims is one of the greatest politicians in the history of Washington state and one of the best in the nation.

But the day after this column appears I will be called by countless people in the African American community to find out whether I was being blackmailed or bought. There is a disconnect between perception and reality here, and the African American community is the ultimate loser.

African Americans don't see how Sims has totally reorganized Martin Luther King County government and put the county on a sound fiscal foundation. We don't see the environmental moves to save wetlands or his improvement of regional transportation as something that is done for us.

All we hear from the radio talk shows and see in the newspaper commentaries is how Sims has somehow failed to help African Americans. The accusations are nasty, personal and too general with no specific steps Sims should take.

I beg to differ.

When Chicago's Mayor Daley was under fire in the 1960s for not doing enough for the Black residents of Chicago, he gave an answer that has stuck with me every since.

"I have given the Black community everything they have asked for," asserted Daley. "Nothing!"

Politicians don't create agendas, communities create them, whether geographical, racial or religious. Politicians' jobs are to execute the agendas brought to them by their voters. They decide how to allocate city or county funds to get the job done. If there is no agenda, then there are no funds to allocate.

Ex-Seattle Mayor Norm Rice even put together a group of people to create an agenda for the African American community, and we failed.

Sims is no fool. He knows that as an African American he must be above reproach in everything he does. He cannot afford to frivolously spend county money just to make himself look good in our community.

But he really should not have to resort to that because we can make the case that there are some issues in our community that, if solved, will improve the quality of life for every citizen in the county. Unfortunately we have never tried to make that case.

The county spends a huge amount of its money on the prison system. If the statistics have not changed, Martin Luther King County still has the highest incarceration rate per capita for African American males in the world. Even if we have dropped to somewhere in the top five, it's still not acceptable.

If African Americans in the criminal justice system along with pastors and non-profit community agencies can bring Ron Sims some solutions to this one problem, we would make him a very happy African American man and politician. I know it bothers him as much, if not more, than it bothers you.

I hear you! Why don't Sims do something about it?

Here we go again, it's not his job to figure out everything for you. But we get stuck here because we have an agenda-less leadership and a community pointing fingers at the only person they can see.

To solve that one problem would require the re-organization of our community. It requires an educational agenda to make sure our kids graduate and go on to college rather than drop out and end up in jail. It takes an economic agenda that helps us provide entry-level jobs for our youth, and it takes living wage jobs for people raising families.

It takes a social agenda that teaches love and respect for family, community and the nation. It takes European American allies who speak up against racial discrimination.

We must create an environment where people are comfortable buying into our vision of what America can be rather than dropping out of everything because of what America has been.

Finally it takes more community-based programs to help those incarcerated get what they need to be productive members of society once they're out.

If we are willing to do these things to save our youth, Ron Sims, Larry Gossett, Eric Pettigrew and Richard McIver will be right there with us, for it's in their best interest to get this done.

What does victory look like?

If we cannot answer that question we need to stop beating up African American politicians. If we can, we would be talking about what we need to do rather than what has not been done.

A clear agenda from us changes Ron Sims, and other politicians, into assets. There is nothing to gain from beating up on your current group of African American politicians.

Give them an agenda and you have something to judge them by. If you don't, please shut up.

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