Black mayors: Biden can win North Carolina 

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 18, 2024

By Rob Schofield

The possibility that Donald Trump could, despite his status as a convicted felon, still prevail in this fall’s presidential election by eking out an Electoral College victory has left many Democratic politicians and rank and file voters stressed and apprehensive as the summer campaign season commences in earnest. But those worries were mostly on the back burner Saturday as a group of confident and optimistic Black mayors gathered in Durham to sing the praises Biden-Harris administration, laud the impact of its policies on their cities and towns, and talk openly of carrying North Carolina’s 16 electoral votes this fall.

The event was billed by the Biden-Harris campaign as one in which Black mayors from across North Carolina would “praise President Biden’s Action and sound an alarm on Trump’s threat to Black communities,” but the focus was heavily on the former as speakers, hosted by Durham Mayor Leonardo Williams, repeatedly ticked of a long list of accomplishments and statistics from the past three-and-a-half years — both nationally and in their own communities.

In his introductory remarks, Williams said that, as the government officials most often charged with “getting things done,” mayors have been especially appreciative of the vast new resources that have flowed their way in recent years as a result of Biden’s American Rescue Plan. In detailing what he called the “Biden comeback,” Williams said Rescue Plan resources have done wonders to stabilize both city governments and the small businesses on which their cities depend — many, like his restaurant that played host to Saturday’s gathering, minority-owned.

And while he devoted few of his remarks to the subject, Williams acknowledged the possibility of a Trump victory and said it was a reality that required Black voters to be “very uncomfortably intentional” in the coming months.

“There’s too much on the line to sit this out,” he said.

Williams was followed to the podium by the only non-North Carolina mayor in attendance, Savannah, Georgia, Mayor Van Johnson, who was invited to discuss, among other things, the key role Black voters made in delivering his state to Biden and Harris in 2020. In describing the pride and satisfaction Black Georgia voters experienced in that victory and forecasting the possibility of a similar result in North Carolina in 2024, Johnson echoed Williams’ praise of the Biden-Harris administration’s accomplishments and what he said were the president and vice president’s “skill, compassion, vision and integrity.”

Johnson said that the current administration had delivered more in the way of tangible benefits to Black communities than any other administration in U.S. history, as he rattled off a long list of accomplishments, including:

• record job growth

• record low unemployment

• the fastest rate for Black small business startups in 30 years

• big increases in Black household wealth (up 60 percent since before the pandemic) and reductions in poverty

• the number of Black Americans with health insurance has now reached 90 percent

• expanded access to affordable internet service

• significant progress in removing toxic lead pipes from low-income community water systems

• new enforcement action targeting housing discrimination

• the nation’s first significant anti-gun violence legislation in decades

• billions of dollars in forgiven student debt and investments in HBCUs

• a $35 per month cap on insulin

Johnson also highlighted the administration’s infrastructure investments and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s help in arranging for the planned removal of a highway that had “cut Black Savannah in half.” Johnson likened the highway and its racially discriminatory impact to the policies America experienced under Donald Trump, whom he accused of having both a racist record and an agenda that would “take a wrecking ball” to Biden’s many accomplishments.

Colvin, who was first elected in 2017, explained how he had worked with both the Trump and Biden administrations and had seen marked difference in the two. With the Trump people, Colvin said, “everything was political” rather than a function of need and merit.

Like his colleagues, Colvin also worried that progress in numerous areas — from support for small businesses and HBCUs to environmental initiatives like the transition to electric vehicles and efforts to combat PFAS pollution — would be derailed if Trump somehow returned to the White House. And like the others, he also predicted that Black people and other minority communities would suffer disproportionately in a second Trump term.

For his part, White echoed previous speakers on the impact that increased federal supports have had on small towns like his and also touted the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and North Carolina’s recent embrace of Medicaid expansion — both of which he said, would be in jeopardy in the event of a Trump win in November.

Day expressed confidence that, over the coming months, Biden’s emphasis on bringing people together will convince young people to reject Trump’s divisiveness.

Will facts overcome apathy?

If there was a central unanswered issue that hung over Saturday’s  event, it revolved around the enthusiasm/apathy question. The event came at a time in which Trump’s blunt — sometimes crude — appeals, combined with high-profile, if sporadic endorsements from a handful of African American public figures, appear to have made some inroads with Black voters.

Meanwhile, as with the Biden administration itself and its national campaign, the mayors’ presentation was largely about championing facts, figures and tangible differences the last three-and-a-half years have meant to the lives Black voters.

Largely absent from the event — save for when speakers briefly blasted Trump for the Jan. 6 insurrection, his “racist agenda,” and his pre-political career record (speakers highlighted Trump’s many race-related controversies as a landlord and his public condemnation of a group of innocent Black youths known as the Central Park Five”) — were the kinds of emotional appeals that might rouse average voters who often pay little attention to substantive policy issues.

In essence, it seemed, it was the mayors’ argument that the facts speak for themselves and will, if only they’re repeated enough, be sufficient to mobilize the turnout among the Black electorate that will be essential for Biden to do well in North Carolina. The next five months will be a study in whether such a hopeful and optimistic strategy can prevail in a time of national division and conflict.

This first appeared in NC Spin.