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

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"I was very disappointed in the president's statement in support of same-sex marriage," Stewart stated. "I believe his support of same-sex marriage goes against God's word and the laws of nature. I believe that supporters of same-sex marriage are contributing to the widespread dysfunction of marriage and family . . . and that the legalization of same-sex marriage will eventually lead to the legalization of polygamy."

Larios says it was an "offensive letter."

It never came up in a vetting of Stewart by the B/BC.

Wilcox did not return New Times' calls for comment.

"You talk about social justice, inclusiveness, and you're going to leave out an entire segment of our community?" Larios asks.

Gay rights doesn't have to be the most important issue, he says, but "if you're going to leave it out altogether, then I can't trust you to lead me."

In an effort to stifle the criticism, Stewart admits that he draws the line at gay marriage but says, "I have a history of standing up against injustice, I will continue to do that. Without a doubt! Look, I don't have horns, I'm not a devil, and I'm not out there as a right-wing fanatic."

Warren Stewart's finally refusing County Attorney Montgomery's endorsement demonstrates just how crucial the Latino vote is in District 8.

Stewart's team knows that it must get Latino voters on the pastor's side, and it's using the tactic of appealing to the brown community's sense of justice. Stewart's people argue that there must be diversity on the decision-making body that already has two Hispanic representatives in councilmen Nowakowski and Valenzuela.

Depending on the outcome of the election in neighboring District 4, which also has a majority Latino population, there could be an unprecedented third Latino elected to the council.

The Stewart campaign is pleading with Latino voters that a single black seat isn't too much to ask.

The odd thing — or so it seems if you don't consider the way church-based black leadership in Phoenix has operated historically — is that Stewart's campaign seems to dismiss the gay Robinson as even a black candidate.

Stewart's candidacy has the support of the Black/Brown Coalition, which includes the likes of established Latino leaders like Mary Rose Wilcox. But, beyond that, the brown community is splintered.

For instance, Nowakowski, whom blacks backed in 2007, isn't returning the favor and supporting a black candidate in District 8.

Nowakowski touted the importance of having Latinos on the council five years ago, when he first ran, and also during Councilman Valenzuela's run for office. This time, he says, black interests can "absolutely" be represented by a candidate of any race.

Nowakowski's stance is an affront to Luther Holland, the retired United Church of Christ minister aligned with Stewart.

"For him to become a winner, he found himself in black churches every Sunday," Holland says of Nowakowski. "He hasn't been back since."

Holland says Nowakowski's lack of support for an African-American candidate drives a wedge between the black and brown communities because "he knew damn well what he was doing" when he was courting the black vote.

When asked why brown representation was vital in the past but black representation isn't this time around, Nowakowski sidesteps the question, saying he supported Cloves Campbell Jr. until he dropped out of the race.

"Now there [are] two good African-Americans. Who do you go for?" he says. "I'd rather go with someone I know."

Widland Gallego has supported him "from day one," Nowakowski says, "and happens to have experience and [involvement] in the community."

Nowakowski's failure to back a black candidate, namely Stewart, also pains Johnson, who says he's stood by his fellow councilman on many occasions and considers his endorsement of Widland Gallego a betrayal.

Minorities in Phoenix historically have found themselves at odds with each other — or repeatedly trying to repair their fractured alliances.

In Race Work, Whitaker details that the collaboration occasionally forged between African-American and Mexican-American leaders during the 1960s was less evident by the '70s.

"Chicano activists were primarily interested in justice for their people, not integration with white or black Phoenicians," the author wrote, adding that the approach continued to "undermine the ability of Mexican-Americans and African-Americans to work together effectively."

Despite the changes in the political landscape — much of it because of the battle over illegal immigration — the Reverend Jarrett Maupin Jr. says the essential point in District 8 is that African-Americans must hold fast to their power base at City Hall.

"Black power" is what the community demands, the younger Maupin says, which "is simply saying that black people in District 8 don't want anything more or won't accept anything less than what everybody else has."

The Reverend Holland laments that it will be a "rude awakening" if the African-American community loses the representation it fought so hard to win nearly 50 years ago.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo