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Sisters Rising – Black Women’s Votes in 2017

Julianne Malveaux / December 1, 2017

Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam is as dull as they come.

Listening to him speak is about as exciting as watching paint dry. But he’s a Democrat who is mostly right on the issues, he served as Lieutenant Governor under the charismatic and focused Terry McAuliffe, and President Barack Obama came to Virginia to campaign for him. The result – he won the November election by double digits, defeating Republican Ed Gillespie whose campaign descended into racist ads reminiscent of our current president. Ninety-one percent of the African American women who voted in this election voted for Northam. We’ll see if he recognizes this voting bloc when he takes office.

Despite the fact that a recent poll indicated that African American women are less enamored with the Democratic Party than ever, we remain a reliable Democratic vote. Hillary Clinton garnered 94 percent of our vote in 2016, while 53 percent of White women voted for a man who boasted about grabbing women by the genitals. But Black women rarely get the respect or recognition that our votes indicate we deserve. Our vote is too often taken for granted even when it makes a major difference in elections.

There is lots of good news from the 2017 elections. In New Jersey, State Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver is Lieutenant Governor elect. The long- time legislator, and once Speaker of New Jersey’s lower house, will be part of Governor Phil Murphy’s cabinet as Commissioner of Community Affairs. In Virginia, Justin Fairfax is Lieutenant Governor-elect. The dynamic young African American attorney is the first African American to win a statewide election since Governor Doug Wilder. Interesting, though Northam garnered such a large number of Black women’s votes, his treatment of Fairfax wasn’t always above-board. In one piece of endorsement literature, Fairfax was left off. Of course, there were subsequent apologies, but it will be interesting to see if Northam gives Fairfax as much responsibility as Murphy is giving Oliver in New Jersey. There are lots of other victories.

New Orleans had two Black women in the runoff for the mayor’s race, so no matter who won, New Orleans would have had its first woman mayor. But LaToya Cantrell’s victory is notable in that she bested former municipal Justice Desiree Charbonnet, who had the support of much of the Black political establishment, including Congressional Black Caucus Chairman and New Orleanian Cedric Richmond (D). Indeed, Cantrell is only the second person to win the mayor’s office without being a native of the Big Easy. Does this suggest that Black women voters are willing to rock the boat? Cantrell won with 60 percent of the vote!

Charlotte has its first woman mayor in African American Vi Lyles.

Virginia elected two Latina women and a transgender woman to its House of Delegates. Four Black women serve on the Boston City Council. In Philadelphia, a civil rights lawyer who has represented Black Lives Matter will now serve as District Attorney. Democrats, African Americans, other people of color, and progressives enjoyed many other victories in these off- year elections. Some say these victories are a reaction to the repressive national climate. Others caution against taking one data point and turning it into a trend. In any case, even in resistance, it makes sense to take a moment to savor the victories, and also to appreciate the Black woman’s vote.

As we move into 2018, two Black women are running serious campaigns for governor. In Georgia, state legislator Stacy Abrams is gaining national recognition for her race. In Maryland, policy analyst and founder of the think tank, Center for Global Policy Solutions Maya Rockeymore Cummings has been blunt in her criticism of Governor Larry Hogan, who claims distance from the current president, but travelled to Virginia to campaign for the racist Ed Gillespie. Both women will have to win Democratic primaries in order to face off against Republican opponents, and both must clear high hurdles. In Maryland, Rockeymore has entered a crowded Democratic field that includes former NAACP President Ben Jealous and retiring Prince George’s County executive Rushern Baker. In Georgia, Stacy Abrams will face off against fellow legislator Stacey Evans, who is White. Where will the White women’s vote go? What kind of support will Abrams get from national Democrats?
Sisters are rising, both with our votes and with our candidates. Still, we need more Black women to run for public office, and we need the national Democratic Party to be far more respectful of the Black woman’s vote. DNC Chairman Tom Perez, are you listening? Or are you still chasing the “working class White” vote, while ignoring ours?

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Visit her Web site:


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