MAXWELL:  Black defectors betray their party

9/16/1998- Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Loyalty is more valuable than diamonds.

_ Philippine proverb

As a black man born and reared in Florida _ where every man is for himself _ I hold the state’s black elected officials to higher standards than I do their white peers. For this reason, I am compelled to say that state Rep. Rudy Bradley of St. Petersburg and state Sen. James Hargrett of Tampa _ both black Democrats _ are traitors.

They have no business endorsing GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush. Yes, I know that Agriculture Secretary Bob Crawford, a white Democrat, and state Sen. Ron Silver of Miami, a Jewish Democrat, have joined the Bush steamroller. But this column is only about African-Americans. And switching parties in midstream, as did state Democratic Sen. George Kirkpatrick of Gainesville, would be even more objectionable.

As black Democrats who were elected by fellow black Democrats to serve their interests, Bradley and Hargrett have a moral obligation to remain loyal to the party, at least until their terms expire. Ordinary black citizens, who have not been elected to represent the party, have a perfect right to endorse the other side.

But Bradley and Hargrett are not ordinary black citizens. To the contrary, they have reaped the benefits of being party insiders. Now that the polls indicate that Bush has a wide lead over Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, the Democratic candidate for governor, Bradley and Hargrett have defected.

I have not read or heard Bradley’s defense of his move, but Hargrett, as usual, has been running off at the mouth. During a speech at the Italian Club in Ybor City last week, he said that he dumped his party because “Bush has the vision to pull us together and move us forward.” He said also that Bush will help all facets of the state, including the “urban core areas,” by stimulating the economy.

Hargrett’s supreme bit of hypocrisy as to why he turned against MacKay, a loyalist with a 30-year record of fine public service, came when he said, “I want to build the Democratic Party.”

Whom is Hargrett kidding? He and other black Democrats (Reps. Willie Logan of Opa-locka and Beryl Roberts-Burke of Miami are said to be preparing to jump ship) are not motivated by policy or principle but by two of the most cynical of political impulses: revenge and personal expediency.

As for revenge, they are punishing white Democrats for ousting Logan from leadership in the state House Democratic caucus in January. In their myopic way, they are prepared to destroy their party and thereby further confuse black voters, who, until the embarrassing “turkey” giveaways during the last legislative session, had never received a damned thing from Republicans except contempt and neglect.

Again, how does supporting Bush, as Hargrett claims, “build the Democratic Party”? The very suggestion is ludicrous and discounts the intelligence of his constituents.

Expediency _ personal gain, power, money for pet projects _ also drives these black Democrats. Indeed, Hargrett, Bradley and company will get a few handouts from the dubiously reconstructed GOP. These handouts and Bush’s warmed-over enterprise zone schemes will not solve problems in the state’s chronically poor black communities. Change will come when black Democrats themselves devise and implement viable policies and when residents in these areas decide for themselves that they want better lives.

Where have Bradley and Hargrett been all of these years? Where are their policies? And their principles? The bottom line is that black Democrats, like most other Floridians, have heard the Jeb! juggernaut and have thrown themselves beneath its wheels.

Robin Rorapaugh, MacKay’s campaign manager, nicely sums up the motivations of Bradley and Hargrett: “I don’t believe policy or Buddy MacKay’s record is what is driving these endorsements. I believe it is political expediency. And the day after the election, I believe they will realize that they have made a bad bet.”

“Bad bet” or not, the problem is that blacks _ who will always be indebted to the Democratic Party _ should not abandon their political family when it needs them most. Loyalty still has great premium. Ultimately, Bush, who may make a great governor, and the GOP will not need this band of disloyal black Democrats. Bush most certainly will have no reason to trust them.

If the Democratic Party is wrong for Bradley and Hargrett, they should visit their supervisor of elections and switch parties.