"Ethnic politics is still very much alive and well in big-city politics. Can you bridge the ethnic politics, or at least not trigger them in a negative way? Yes. But you have to be strategically cognitive of it. You can't pretend that race doesn't matter, because we are somehow post-racial."I bring this up because it was hard not to miss the Facebook post's implied "hmmm" aimed at Memphis, which will decide next year whether to re-elect A C Wharton as mayor. That's one of the challenges that landed in Wharton's lap when he was the overwhelming choice in last year's special election to complete the unfinished term of former mayor Willie Herenton -- he only gets two years to prove he is worthy of another four years. Given his popularity and fundraising prowess, it's hard to see anyone giving Wharton much of a challenge, although delusions of election grandeur are deeply embedded in Memphis politicians of all races, genders and parties.
The general gist of the Post article and of an interview that ran this morning on NPR was that black mayors risk alienating the black voter base when they embrace reforms so popular with white (and black) urban policy experts. You could feel that tension recently when Wharton explained to a mostly-white crowd of bicycle-transportation activists that he has been chewed out by people irritated at his decision to staff City Hall with someone focused on bike and pedestrian issues. The city is of course spending a lot of money on other so-called "stuff white people like" -- a skatepark in Tobey Park, the almost-completed Wolf River Greenway in east East Memphis -- and the challenge for Wharton is explaining to anyone questioning the project is explaining how those are amenities for everyone and that, yes, retaining affluent white families will be key to sustaining the tax base needed to help less fortunate individuals and families.
Anyway, another link to The Post article is here, and click here for NPR's conversation this morning. One final quote from The Post article:
The new generation is what Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, describes as "uber-pragmatists"-forging alliances with corporate interests and prosperous suburbs, encouraging gentrification, hiring outsiders to fill key jobs, inviting in private foundations that see the inner cities as testing grounds for their ideas.
Philip Thompson, a professor of urban studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calls them "technocrats," who view most problems in terms of management and resources, rather than culture or politics.