Beyond the rhetoric:
Back to basics – vote intelligently

Harry C. Alford

Harry C. Alford

We have been going through my archives. Some of my writings from the past still apply today. Some are more relevant today than they were back then (in the 1980s). The following is one of those articles that I’m compelled to republish.

The emergence of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party in the 1980s put the majority of Black advocates in a precarious position. So strong and lopsided was Black support for the Democratic Party that the arrogant Reagan regime figured they owed us nothing.

Almost immediately, affirmative action, the SBA, minority business programs came under attack. Many of the gains made in the ‘60s and ‘70s were diluted, as we had no ‘markers’ to pull.

We have learned a very strong lesson. Never put all of your eggs in one political basket. Advocacy groups should remain nonpartisan. Effective groups will be undamaged by any election outcome. Regardless of who is mayor, senator, governor or anything else the group should be prepared to deal with the elected official. The agenda should be for the good of the Black economy—our people. An effective group should keep its ‘eyes on the prize’ and not be left out of the sphere of influence.

An elected official has only one thing in mind and that is to get re-elected. Don’t be naïve to think that elected officials do things because they
think it is right. They do it because they believe it will be the winning edge at the voting polls.

It would be silly for us to think that all Democrats have the same fine views of the late John F. Kennedy or that all Republicans are as reticent to our needs as Ronald Reagan. There are good and bad in both parties. They all can be converted into different directions based on the make-up of the sphere of influence. The fact of the matter is that there is very little difference in either party.

Blacks have got to recognize the need for us to have influence in both parties. We need high-ranking, key decision makers in every administration. I predict a more sensitive approach to minority participation with the Department of Defense with General Collin Powell as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I predict little progress with the Indiana Department of Commerce until we have a talented, policymaking Black assigned to a top level position. There simply will not be enough sensitivity coming down from the boardroom.

I predict a whole new and better approach to minority participation at Indianapolis Public Schools now that Dr. Shirl Gilbert is the superintendent. We have four Black board members to thank and they are composed of both republicans and democrats.

No political party has an exclusive on economic parity. Let’s be nonpartisan in the pursuit of that. Let’s have both sides appealing for our support, proving their commitment and providing opportunity. By all means, vote but never vote blind. Vote for the person who exemplifies what we need. Never let them assume our vote. Keep them working for it.

The above piece was prophetic. Indianapolis Public Schools within a year had 14 schools to be rebuilt by three Black construction firms and four Black architects/engineering firms. The pension fund was turned over to a Black financial manager. Black graduates of the school system received numerous jobs from these contractors. Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican, proudly displayed his joy about this. Gaining a big piece of the Black vote encouraged him to perform a Disparity Study, which would guide the city procurement office to significant diversity. For the first time in history, a Democratic governor felt the pressure and started to break ground via a statewide Disparity Study and the Legislative Black Caucus started pushing for more Black involvement via contracting and leadership roles within the state government. This is a ‘best practices model’ for all major cities within our great nation.

Before we got our city together, Indianapolis Black entrepreneurs were doing about $30 million in business per year. Today, they approach $1 billion annually. It doesn’t matter which political party is in control any more. Black jobs and businesses are going to prosper as our vote is precious and unpredictable.

It would behoove Black cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore and the rest of those housing enormous ghettos and lack any real Black power to pay attention to what happened in Indianapolis. Black economic development is not guaranteed by any political party. It happens when it is necessary to continue political success because the Black vote becomes a wise vote demanding positive results and progress. Those who have wasted their vote simply because a candidate was Black or belonged to a particular party may continue to suffer. The last seven years attest to that.

(Mr. Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: ; e-mail: <>.)