A panel of political, labor, educational and clergy leaders are demanding that elected officials establish and maintain a high level of accountability in providing services to and improving the standard of living in the African American community.
The Black Community, Clergy and Labor Alliance (BCCLA) convened a summit Monday morning at the African American Cultural Center in the Crenshaw District, specifying to liberal-democratic officeholders and candidates that the Black vote will no longer be automatic.
“We no longer can give our vote and not have accountability from our political leaders,” said the Rev. Eric Lee, president of the BCCLA. The group announced a Black Community Candidate Covenant to achieve policy and political goals that are mutually beneficial to the officeholder and their constituency.
“We are a community of Black leaders who will no longer have their vote taken for granted,” Lee continued. “Today, there is no social or political area that we are not familiar with. The covenant is applicable to all elected officials and is based on the needs of our community.”
The BCCLA wants communities and candidates to mutually agree on the pressing issues of the Black community, among these the continual high unemployment rate in the inner city, lack of affordable housing, limited access to healthcare, and increased job training.
Lee said that too often politics have been “essentially transactions of convenience” for candidates and community leaders, and/or personalities, without adequate involvement of the community and concern for its interests.
“It is vital that we have a covenant based on politics, one that identifies the critical issues relevant to the African American community,” said Maulana Karenga, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Africana Studies at Cal State Long Beach. “The politicians must know the critical interests of our community, and also are they worthy of our vote? White politicians court the Black vote during every election, but fail to follow through on meeting the needs of the community. Well, we want a different political relationship, one that is built on mutual association, respect and cooperation.”
In short, the covenant is committed to a living wage requirement for all city service/hospitality jobs of which the city contracts or utilizes taxpayer funds; it wants equitable representation of Black workers with city contracts; it seeks increased emphasis on recruiting, training and hiring of Black workers in every city contract and/or taxpayer-funded project; appointment of a Black deputy mayor and senior advisers at City Hall specializing in education, economic development and human services, and it demands an equitable percentage of Black general managers and members of City Hall commissions.
Besides requesting concrete policy from politicians–and the goals of the Black community and mayoral candidate–the group has developed a ratings system for candidates and thus has a basis for community support or non-support of a given candidate.
“Political candidates who seek the support of the Black community must recognize and respect our interests and endorse a list of vital interests and agenda,” Lee explained.
One of the issues discussed is the lack of African American tradesmen employed at the many construction sites around town, specifically on the extension of the Expo line to Venice; personnel hired for the new Crenshaw light-rail line, the ongoing work at L.A. International Airport, and at the many secondary school sites in South Los Angeles.
“We have strategy to help increase the number of Black workers at the many construction sites in Los Angeles,” said Anton Farmby of the Service Employees International Union. “The presence of Black workers will be a focal point in supporting candidates. If the city is using taxpayer funds for a project, then there must be an equitable number of Black workers employed.”
The commitment to better housing, the BCCLA insists, will come from investment in banks that provide foreclosure relief/assistance based in the Black community. BCCLA also support rent control, affordable housing and mixed-income/mixed-use developments in underserved areas.
With the Blue, Expo and Crenshaw lines running through South Los Angeles, the BCCLA encourages development of “commerce centers” along main transportation routes to encourage more employment and local spending. They also call for immediate funding of the Leimert Park Village Station and a “below-grade” rail line on Crenshaw Boulevard from 48th to 59th streets.
In its pledge to help improve educational opportunities, the group wants to engage the United Teachers of Los Angeles in the policy areas of teacher effectiveness, evaluations and accountability. They also want to ensure that a “high-quality education be available to every child in every neighborhood” through the allocation of funds and resources necessary to meet their specific needs.
The Los Angeles Police Department should be investigated, the BCCLA suggests, regarding public claims of police brutality, corruption, discrimination and racial targeting/profiling both “… within the department and in the Black community.” Also, there must be improvement and expansion of gang prevention/intervention programs and an increase in youth engagement gang alternatives.
“We’re not here fighting to get people elected,” Karenga said. “We’re fighting to improve the living standards of Black people. Our politicians must understand that this is a real commitment to improvement in the minority community … not just lip service. We must receive a commitment from L.A.’s next mayor that there will be more internships, training and hiring of Black workers, and a living wage be instituted on taxpayer-supported projects.”
In Los Angeles, African American voters make up 15 percent of the total electorate and are always a critical part of any election. For many decades, liberal politicians have traditionally sought the endorsement of Black or Latino celebrities when courting the minority vote (i.e. Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s endorsement and that of former President Bill Clinton for Wendy Greuel, or Eric Garcetti’s support from fellow councilpersons Herb Wesson, Bernard Parks and Jan Perry).
“That’s the old story,” said Larry Aubry, vice president of the BCCLA. “We are the people who can make a difference, and the politicians know that come Election Day. Too often, though, our vote has been taken for granted; the pressing needs of the community are forgotten once they take office. There is a different dynamic today. Our leaders must be accountable to all communities they represent, and not just to the people who can write the biggest campaign check.”