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Gentrification is at the heart of the Alabama House 54 debacle

Friday, August 25, 2006

The mess and self-destruction of Alabama's Democratic party in its decision to disqualify white (and out lesbian) Patricia Todd, who legitimately won the House 54 seat, and black challenger Gaynelle Hendricks) is now complete.

The people's vote doesn't matter. It's about party kingmakers, sore losers and race, with the added spice of gay demonization.

At the core of this issue is district 54, central Birmingham, is being gentrified. When Kate and I drove through the district on a recent visit, it was plainly apparent that Crestwood, in particular, is an area that is undergoing demographic change. This is no different than what many in-town neighborhoods are experiencing, as property is being bought by gay (and mostly white) urban homesteaders who remodel delapidated housing, attract new businesses and breathe life into those neighborhoods.

What it also brings, with the rise in housing costs is displacement of the urban poor, change in voting patterns -- and the power and influence of kingmakers like party vice chairman Joe Reed.

It's the loss of Reed's political control that was driving this insanity. It's not as if Patricia Todd didn't have black support -- she had to have a good amount in order to win -- those who supported her have had to deal with taunts and charges of "Uncle Tom" and "sellout." Reed and company are tossing a political temper tantrum and illegitimately tossing out the race card, hoping that noise and rage will overpower actual voting results. And yes, that still works in Southern politics, particularly in this case.

The anti-gay spin has been downplayed in coverage, but the fact of the matter is, as the NYT article notes, anonymous fliers were posted calling Patricia Todd a "confessed lesbian." No one needs to ignore this and let it slip below the radar. The black homophobia should not be swept under the rug.

And so, with the disqualification over an arcane rule that no Dem in a certified race has followed, this is a statement that "if we can't have the black winner we want, we'll sacrifice both of them to get the white lesbian out of the picture."

Gentrification and its impact on a district's representation is a worthy topic to discuss; using party machinery and backroom bigotry to toss out the legitimate results of an election is a travesty and embarassment. It's as if Reed and company have a short memory -- that they are reveling in the chance to take away the vote of the people now that blacks have gained political power is a sad state of affairs. It wasn't that long ago that party machinery was used against blacks; table-turning on an ally like Todd is self-defeating and racist in turn.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund will continue to back Todd as this will likely move to court:
"Patricia got the most votes in two separate elections - the primary and the runoff - but party bosses didn't like the results, so now they plan to handpick their own candidate. What happened today in Montgomery was unfair, undemocratic, un- American and unwise. Democrats in Alabama have been through this before, and they have suffered for it. When party power brokers insist they know better than the voters, the voters stay home. Alabamians who care about democracy should be outraged, and Democrats everywhere should tell party leaders to reject the tired politics of yesterday and listen to the will of the people, especially those who have already spoken twice. We will continue to stand with Patricia as she fights to ensure that Alabama voters will be able to choose their own representatives."
Birmingham Blues has photos up of the hearing. Thanks for the ace reporting, Kathy. She notes at her pad:
Are you horrified by yesterday’s subcommittee ruling?  Are you wondering what you can do about it?  If you live in the area, come to Montgomery for the State Democratic Executive Committee meeting tomorrow at 10 am at the Embassy Suites (click here for map).  If you can’t come to the meeting, contact state party chair Joe Turnham, and let him know you agree with his assessment.  And if you have a few dollars to spare, make a donation to the Victory Fund to help pay for Patricia’s legal challenge.