MAXWELL:  Sudden amnesia regarding MacKay

10/7/1998 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


After I referred to black Democrats state Rep. Rudy Bradley and Sen. James Hargrett as traitors in a recent column for supporting Republican Jeb Bush for governor, Hargrett telephoned and gave me a 30-minute piece of his mind.

I did most of the listening as Hargrett spoke about how I had misrepresented his record. He took special umbrage at my description of him as “running off at the mouth.” What struck me most about the exchange was the senator’s apparent personal contempt for Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Granted, Hargrett is a party insider and must have information about MacKay that I do not have. Even so, I am informed enough to know that MacKay _ compared with most other Florida Democrats _ has been a “buddy” to African-Americans. And compared to Republicans, he has been a Mother Teresa.

Even so, increasing numbers of blacks, especially so-called leaders, are joining the Bush campaign. Now, Opa-locka Rep. Willie Logan has jumped on board. Such betrayal is bad enough on its face. Even worse, however, is that Hargrett, Bradley, Logan and others have contracted a bad case of amnesia. They have intentionally forgotten MacKay’s three decades of fine service to the state and to African-Americans.

Suddenly, black leaders are describing MacKay as if he simply showed up in Florida, as if he does not have a track record among black people. The truth is that before he entered politics more than 30 years ago, MacKay fought to integrate the University of Florida law school. This was at a time when pork-choppers and other bigots ran the state, when civil rights was a dirty expression in most white households.

After being elected to the Legislature, he helped bring more money to historically black Florida A&M University. The Chiles-MacKay administration has appointed a record number of black judges and has spurred a 500 percent increase in the number of black-owned businesses gaining state contracts.

“I have fought for fairness and for equality because it was the right thing to do, not because it was politically convenient,” MacKay recently told a group of black voters in Miami.

The shame is that a man with such a long record of service must now explain himself to people who have benefited from his efforts. Recently, in St. Petersburg, he spoke to about 60 people at an NAACP meeting and was forced to defend himself. Ironically, as MacKay pointed out, many blacks are supporting Bush even though the man has no track record of helping blacks. Nor has he held elective office.

“Look behind this election _ before we were all running and smiling,” MacKay told the crowd, referring to Bush. “Think about who was there for you, and think about where was Jeb Bush. Remember back in 1994 and the question, “What are you going to do for African-Americans?’ Remember his answer? “Probably nothing.’ If you think that’s changed since 1994, let me tell you folks, you’re going to be in for a big surprise.”

I was heartened by state Comptroller Bob Milligan, a Republican, who has done what Hargrett, Bradley and Logan have not done: He thought logically and assessed MacKay fairly. Asking the Florida Republican Party to remove his name from a campaign letter, which he thought was too negative, he said that, although he is supporting Bush, he likes and respects MacKay.

Milligan likes and respects MacKay because he has surveyed MacKay’s record, and he sees the lieutenant governor for the diplomat and gentleman that he is. Only a fool _ and some black Democrats obviously qualify _ would call MacKay an enemy of black people. Only a fool would discount MacKay’s reliability and his willingness to help black people.

Perhaps MacKay could have done more to prevent the ouster of Logan as the Democratic House leader, and perhaps he could have done more to mend fences after the debacle. But MacKay, like everyone else involved, was caught in a chain of events that took on a disastrous life of its own. Sides formed quickly, old wounds reopened, and old hatreds galvanized overnight.

MacKay may be as much of a victim as is Logan in this mess. For sure, the Democratic Party will pay dearly if African-American leaders are merely looking out for themselves by backing Bush. Blacks should keep an eye on this trio and monitor who lands jobs in Bush’s administration _ if he is elected.

In other words, do not be surprised if all of Logan’s, Hargrett’s and Bradley’s new-found enlightenment boils down to be nothing more than plain old quid pro quo.