Black Leaders in Phoenix Struggle to Retain Power in a District They've Historically Controlled

On a day in November, a cadre of African-Americans assemble at the First Institutional Baptist Church to discuss the uncertain future of black leadership in Phoenix.

Crisis hangs in the air.

They ponder how to hang on to the Phoenix City Council seat in District 8, which has been a stronghold for African-Americans for decades.

New Times photo Illustration
New Times photo Illustration
Phoenix Councilman Michael Johnson
Social Eye Media
Phoenix Councilman Michael Johnson

"It's more than important; it's imperative to have a black representative on the city council," stresses Luther Holland, a retired pastor who's ministered to the community for 45 years. "We need a seat at the table."

Councilman Michael Johnson, the city's only black elected official, won the seat in 2002, but he's barred by term limits from running again. Several black candidates have expressed interest in replacing him, and now long-established leaders believe they must coalesce behind a single candidate to improve their odds of victory in the August 27 election.

After all, they see unity as the cornerstone of the community's strength. They note that it was in a spirit of solidarity that blacks marched through Phoenix streets for civil rights, for an end to segregation, and for Arizona voters to adopt a holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Their political tenacity forced obstinate white city officials to adopt anti-discrimination laws eventually and usher Morrison Warren, the city's first black councilman, into office in 1965.

After losing the City Council seat for two years, African-Americans took it back in 1972 by electing Calvin C. Goode and keeping him in office until 1994. Cody Williams, his successor, served as councilman for eight years before Johnson.

It's been many years since blacks have waged a revolutionary war for social change in Phoenix or have had to wring their hands over the community's representation on the City Council.

Black leaders are trying to figure out how to keep their collective voice from getting drowned out by a rising chorus of Latino activists, who themselves are reviving calls for civil rights and racial equality, this time for immigrants. These brown people are much more interested in ending draconian laws, like Arizona Senate Bill 1070, than helping blacks retain power in Phoenix.

It's not the state's growing population of Latinos that has put blacks at a disadvantage — they've always have been outnumbered by Latinos in the minority-filled pockets of the city. It's Latinos' increasingly unabashed efforts to take political control of school boards and council districts with large Hispanic populations.

The plan is simple: Register thousands of new voters, knock on doors, educate citizens about candidates and issues, and convince them of the power of casting a ballot.

In Arizona, 18.4 percent of the electorate is Latino, up from 14.3 percent in 2008. California, with a 4.4 percent increase, was the only state to surpass Arizona, according to Latino Decisions, a political-research firm.

This is the harsh reality that several dozen blacks wrestle with at the November mini-convention. As they weigh options, they ask those who intend to run for City Council to confess their ambitions.

Emerging as potential candidates are Cloves Campbell Jr., publisher of the weekly Arizona Informant newspaper and son of Cloves Campbell Sr., Arizona's first black state senator; Jarrett Maupin Sr., son of late trailblazing civil rights activist Opal Ellis; business owner Ted McClure; and Lawrence Robinson, adopted grandson of Phoenix's first black judge (Jean Williams) and recently elected member of the Roosevelt Elementary School District governing board.

There isn't a consensus at that meeting — or at any of the hushed gatherings in private homes and in coffee shops — over which candidate will earn the support of the institutional leaders.

It isn't until Councilman Johnson and others convene a closed-door, invitation-only meeting in January at the George Washington Carver Museum and Culture Center that self-appointed black leaders vote to anoint Pastor Warren H. Stewart — not in the mix originally — as the "consensus candidate."

At the end of the half-day meeting, delegation members stand, join their hands, and bow their heads in prayer to ask God to bless their candidate with community support and an Election Day victory.

The Lord, however, works in mysterious ways.


Just days after Warren Stewart, 61, is revealed as the chosen one, Lawrence Robinson, 31, makes it clear that he won't yield his candidacy as other African-Americans — Jarrett Maupin Sr. and Cloves Campbell Jr. — have done.

Both men stepped aside in deference to the old guard and the pastor who has shepherded his flock at First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix for more than 30 years.

Robinson, a gay professor at Phoenix School of Law, loudly is called treasonous by the community elders for staying in the race.

Two others also didn't drop out — McClure and Carolyn T. Lowery, 72, who's spent her life working with the poor in South Phoenix — but they have little support in the district.

Robinson, however, is running an organized and well-funded campaign that threatens to split the black vote and leave the seat vulnerable to Kate Widland Gallego, 31, an Anglo who's married to influential state lawmaker Ruben Gallego.

The district has 182,336 residents and the largest percentage of African-Americans — about 15 percent — of any of the city's eight council districts. It is the black community's best chance of hanging on to a nearly 50-year tradition. (City council elections also are under way in districts 2, 4, and 6.)

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27 comments
kanderssohn
kanderssohn

Very confusing article as far as keeping names straight. Page 10 introduces us to Lawrence Robinson as the adopted grandson of Phoenix's first black judge and recently elected member of the Roosevelt Elementary School District governing board. Then on page 12 Lawrence Robonson is identified as a gay professor at the Phoenix School of Law. A photo caption on the same page refers to Pastor Stewart Robinson as Councilman Michael Johnson's hand-picked successor. Then on page 22 at the top center of the page in orange font there is a reference to Pastor Warren Robinson. So we have a Lawrence Robinson, a Warren Stewart, a Stewart Robinson and a Warren Robinson. Nice proof-reading job by someone... 

gailross5555
gailross5555

The old divide and conquer along racial lines.  Come on people stand together as one, open your heart.  Hispanics have obviously been targeted but no one knows that better than blacks about targeting either.   Just as Martin Luther King said so eloquently  An Injustice for one is an injustice for all!!!  There is strength in unity of all people forget race --we are the 99% until they divide along racial lines then they stay on top with all their injustice and fraud.  Come together and peacefully non comply.  Stop the me me me and start the us us us us!!

aschmidt01
aschmidt01

Does a church loose its tax status, by endorsing a political movement?

ExpertShot
ExpertShot topcommenter

I've been in numerous community meetings in South Phoenix - as a person of limited pigment, I am quite offended by the me, me, me I hear.  I've stopped going until I start to hear some US US US!  We're all in the same boat - building divides along skin color lines only helps the corporate masters which seek to exploit us in South Phoenix.  I have noticed there is not one shred of difference between the character of the individual because of skin color or language.  We need to stop this crap and start working together or we are going to get screwed individually.  For god's sake - we got a multi-racial President people - Let's Work Together!

taysearch
taysearch

I agree with Rev. Jarrett Maupin, II that the older generation of African Americans have not invested in youth leadership.  Very few people have put together programs for leadership development.  I believe we have depended on our schools too much and the school programs have not helped to develop young Black leaders.  That must come from the community.  It is not just pastors and elected officials who must lead.  We must all make ourselves responsible for developing young Black leadership.  This article has certainly been a wake up call to me.  I am supporting Pastor Warren Stewart, Sr.  I believe he is the best person to represent District 8.  I will also be supporting Black Youth Leadership Development.

patrickbrennan
patrickbrennan

As a resident of District 8, I found this article offensive on many fronts. I'd go into further detail here, but why be redundant? You can see what folks are saying, including me, on our south Phoenix FB page: https://www.facebook.com/SoPhxAZ

acg070776
acg070776

As a resident of District 8 for the past 4 years, yes, I've seen some improvements in development in the area, particularly in the 24th Street and Baseline intersection.  I'm not sure how much, if at all, Michael Johnson was involved in bringing that development to the area, but it's a good thing.  However, my biggest gripe with living in South Phoenix is the piss poor police response time.  I, as well as a few of my friends who live in the area, have either had our homes broken into or had attempted break-ins, and it consistently takes the police at least 30-45 minutes to respond to the calls from our alarm companies.  That is just not acceptable.  I haven't seen Michael Johnson do anything to address this, nor have I seen the problem get better.  I do, however, notice that Michael Johnson is partying every weekend either at the Legion or Michael's Cafe, so maybe that's more important to him at this point.  Although I appreciate Michael Johnson and the "old guard" for their efforts up to this point, it's time for them to step aside. 

phxsoul
phxsoul

Blacks are also losing power in Arizona because our "old guard" never thought to establish a pipeline for the younger generation to get interested in politics and then take over their seats. I respect our previous and current Black leaders but they have all dropped the ball in this regard.

leewah
leewah

1) Corey Woods, not Cory Woods.

2) Art Hamilton was elected at 24, not 25.  Because the age of eligibility to serve in the House was 25, he had to watch the first few weeks of his first session from the spectators' gallery before he could be sworn in.

3) One possible means of addressing the dilution of black representation on the council is to expand the number of council seats.  When the Phoenix city council was changed from at-large to an eight-district system in the early 1980s, the population of Phoenix was about 800,000; that's about 100,000 people per district.  As the population has almost doubled to about 1,500,000, the number of districts has remained eight.  There are now approximately 187,500 people per district, which is more people than the entire population of next-door Tempe.  Proponents of keeping city government close to the people, including leaders in the black community, can make a cogent argument for expanding the council to 16 seats.

don.dodondo
don.dodondo

Blacks are losing their political power all over the country because of the DNCs obsession on "Latino Issues".  First the Latinos were only taking their jobs, but now they are taking their political power as well.  Oh well, this is what they get for blindly voting democrat in every election.

Phoenician
Phoenician

@kanderssohn I know all those names and I can assure you that there aren't any proof reading mistakes. The #Phx8 race is really, really, complicated.

dogbiter
dogbiter

You're a boring detail, and obviously feel burned by this.

sarum
sarum

@ExpertShot Thank you.  Separate but equal did not work then and it will not work now in the reverse either.  Deliciously empowering as it is, it also serves as a box and makes those who holds those values very predictable and easily manipulated.  Admittledy it is a wondrous box.  Big enough to spend a lifetime lost in, but box - cage is what it is.

aschmidt01
aschmidt01

The me, them, comes directly from the Democrat party. Divide and hate, it comes from the head, down.

sarum
sarum

@taysearch Perhaps true but wherever you look even outside the black community you will find this same failure to bring up young leaders.  There is something more afoot here.  The educational points above combined with our mass marketed popular culture as well as a lazy mindedness  brought on by physical poisoning that most want to consider tin foil but is very real and has very real effects on brain function.

ExpertShot
ExpertShot topcommenter

@taysearch They have to get past the "Pull up your damn britches, Son" part of the conversation and that usually is a buzz  kill right there!

Dogbiter
Dogbiter

Offensive, why? The article was right on! The old guard is attempting to squeeze out anybody who doesn't kowtow to it. And what is this white woman doing posing as a Latino to get votes. We're on to you, lady! We all know what you're about Brennan. Mad because Alonzo didn't call you. Wake up and smell the coffee!

jimmie.munoz
jimmie.munoz

@acg070776I'm a supporter of Lawrence Robinson. I think you'd really like to hear about his stance on public safety issues.  Come meet Lawrence and talk to him in person this Saturday at 10am at 6645 S. Central Ave., Phx. 

patrickbrennan
patrickbrennan

@leewah I agree 100% that the council should be expanded vastly. 16 seats would be in keeping with historical ratios, but I'd settle for 12 at this point. Look at D6 as a visually obvious example of a district that makes very little sense. The others are also spread thin across diverse landscapes and communities. Our downtown, for instance -- an area that matters to us all -- hangs in the balance of a few council members who also must work on very different issues elsewhere. 

shirtless
shirtless

@don.dodondo A better explanation is that intelligent Democrats (yes, there are a few) and the rest of society are finally beginning to realize that blacks are generally a hopeless cause.  Despite decades of "affirmative action" and other special preferences, they are no further along than they were in the days of segregation, and in many cases, they are much worse off.  According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 69% of blacks are born out of wedlock (compared to 26% for whites), and while black women account for only 17% of live births, 36% of all abortions are performed on black women.  According to the Center for Disease Control, 44% of the people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are black.  According to the FBI, blacks, who are only 12% of the population, commit 38% of the homicides.  If there were no blacks in our population, our murder by handgun rate would fall to that of Finland, and gun control would be a moot issue.  One reason we do not notice the black crime problem is that much of it is black-on-black.  Black-on-white is next in prevalence.  White-on-black is relatively rare, so much so, that when it happens, it makes front-page headlines.

Blacks have ruined once-great cities, such as Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Memphis, Oakland, and others.  A group that has caused so many problems does not deserve, and should not expect, "political power."  Indeed, our society needs to wake up and get the black crime problem under control before it destroys our society.

sarum
sarum

IOW, many leaders can say that they found nobody coming along under them that was worthy of the time investment to train in leadership.  The same forces that are breaking apart families are also dividing communities.  But I also think that in some cases, the financial reward of retaining leadership is too enticing and then again, many of the choices these days are no-win situations.

taysearch
taysearch

@ExpertShot @taysearch I'm not exactly sure what you mean, but what I mean is give a group of youth a project to carry out.  Teach them Robert's Rules of Order, how to write an agenda, take minutes, and carry out an assessment of the project.  That's just an example of what can be done.

What is it that you mean?

patrickbrennan
patrickbrennan

@Dogbiter Please tell me what I'm all about... and who you are. Alonzo didn't call me because I'm not a part of this story. Please feel free to take the dialog to our FB page, using your true identity. I'd love to discuss the issues with you or anyone else, but let's please get past the labels first.

taysearch
taysearch

@bgray59 @taysearch Fortunately for me, I began to be taught civics lessons in the third grade, just how to decide whether to have a classroom Halloween and Christmas party or a Christmas party and a Valentine's party.  The problem in our community is that the civics lesson did not carry over to adulthood for many of us.  It's something we learned in school and we left it there when we graduated.  Of course, the fact that it is not even taught today is even worse, but we control institutions where we can teach civics lessons that help our community.  Or we can demand that the schools we pay for teach civics again.

bgray59
bgray59

@taysearch That was covered in my High School freshman civics class.  But that is no longer taught in public school.

 
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