Plato, Platitudes and Power

Plato, Platitudes and Power
Dr. Lenora B. Fulani

Last week Governor George Pataki attended the annual Black and Hispanic Caucus dinner, causing something of an uproar in Democratic Party circles. Predictably, he was criticized for showing up on the grounds he hadn’t come to the Caucus event in prior years. (Actually, this was the Governor’s third appearance.) Carl McCall, vying for the Democratic nomination to oppose Pataki in November, tried to score points by making a distinction between “new friends” and “true friends.”

Brother McCall might consider himself an expert on friendship, but I think Plato had better things to say on the topic than the State Comptroller does. When it comes to politics there is a basic axiom I follow. Politics has nothing to do with friendship. It has to do with power.

Governor Pataki didn’t come to the Black and Hispanic Caucus dinner looking for friends. He came because our communities have more political power now than in previous gubernatorial elections. How did we become more powerful? By demonstrating that we are becoming more independent.

A significant percentage of Black and Hispanic voters in New York have indicated that they will not automatically vote for a Democrat. The 30% of the Black vote and 48% of the Hispanic vote that broke with the Democratic Party and went for Mike Bloomberg in last year’s mayoral election established that a new paradigm is in the making. Gov. Pataki is responding to what Black and Latino voters did. He is responding to our political power.

Gov. Pataki is doing what he should be doing – reaching out to communities that have been traditionally ignored or underrated by the Republican Party. How should we respond? Not with foolish platitudes about friendship. The Black and Latino communities need to go to work discussing what policies we favor, and how to build and expand the political power we now hold.

I’m hosting a series of community forums in partnership with KISS-FM radio and the iconoclastic talk show wizards Bob Slade, Bob Pickett and James Mtume. Mark Riley of WLIB, Bob Law of WWRL and Gary James of WPAT have joined us. Together we’ve been organizing Town Hall meetings attended by 500 people at a time to discuss how our communities want to cultivate and build off of our independence. The Harlem meeting at the National Black Theatre was standing room only. The Brooklyn meeting at Medgar Evers drew nearly 600 people. These meetings weren’t set up to make friends. They were set up to create more of an independent power base – one that is not mediated by the Democrats – to exercise political power.

Now we’re all moving on to the Bronx and Queens. In the Bronx on Thursday, April 4th we’ll be joined by State Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. who recently made a grand power move of his own when he resigned from the Democratic Party, registered as a Republican and joined the Republican majority caucus in the State Senate. Edwin Ortiz, a leader of the Independence Party in the Bronx with a significant following among young people, will be on the panel, too. This will be a moment to make a statement about independent Black and Latino unity – the kind of unity that makes us powerful, rather than subservient to the Democratic Party.

Bill Withers famously sang the words, “Just call on me, brother, when you need a friend.” I love that song and I love that sentiment. I just don’t buy it when phony politicians try to sing it.

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