Archive for March, 2009

A word of explanation: I reside in the Fourth Congressional District of Georgia, which has been represented by several different Congress people over the years of my residence. In recent weeks (January, 2007), we have seen the departure of a tumultuous figure, Cynthia McKinney. Presumably, McKinney has moved on to the world of the academia, where fractious and outrageous behavior is a necessary part of any complete Curriculum Vitae.

Those in the northern area of DeKalb County who remain are quietly relieved, but last summer, in July, 2006, I could not leave well enough alone:


Over the years, DeKalb County has developed a reputation for rough and tumble politics. There have been exceptions, such as the modestly liberal Elliott Levitas, who represented DeKalb in the U. S. Congress for ten years, but overall, DeKalb’s political representatives have been flamboyant. They also have periodically been controversial. The steady Levitas was replaced by Patrick Swindall in 1985, showing the power of getting out the church vote and by catching Levitas flat footed late in the campaign. Swindall would then flame out spectacularly after four years, leading to the election of television star Ben Jones, who also served for four years. After Jones, conservative John Lindner did his four year tour in the 4th Congressional post.

In 1996, the 4th district was redrawn in such a way that a “safe” district was created for a black congress person. It is in that environment that Cynthia McKinney was elected. Given free rein, McKinney has taken flamboyance to an entirely new level and there have been collateral damages from her political stance. To her supporters, who are numerous in certain areas of her district, she is bold and unbowed by the political power structure. To her detractors, she is an irrational radical more concerned with her own agenda than that of the voters in the District. There are few middle of the road opinions about McKinney.

But an inability to work and play well with others has its consequences, as many tax payers in the 4th District can tell you. Her outspokenness has garnered vast coverage in the national media, making her one of the Republican Party’s most effective fund raisers. It has also earned her a seething dislike in certain areas of the congressional district. Her blatant political stance results in unanswered requests from 4th District constituents who happen to live in areas where she does not have political support. In an attempt to ease this situation, the map of the 4th District has been repeatedly adjusted to bring voters into other more friendly districts; Dunwoody and the Emory area are two recent examples. Yet, there are still others who remain in limbo, paying taxes but getting no representation; and not seeing their tax dollars spent in their District. To further exacerbate the problem, McKinney’s controversial positions have resulted in her general political ineffectiveness. It is unlikely that she could get a resolution declaring National Peach Week passed in Congress.

McKinney is not invincible. Four years ago, the seething dislike in the electorate bubbled over, resulting in her defeat by a relative political unknown, Denise Majette. Majette had quietly been attending neighborhood meetings, showing that there was a moderate alternative. The campaign was classic DeKalb, culminating with what many refer to as The Phone Call, when a series of unsolicited telephone calls were made to potential voters. This call, sponsored by an unknown party, featured a very official sounding voice telling voters that it was against the law to cross over and vote in a primary other than that of their own party. It was a classic example of dirty political campaigning, untrue and meant to deceive the voters. But it also had an unintended consequence, for many otherwise Republican voters soon discovered that they could indeed cross over and vote in the Democratic primary. It also alerted Democratic voters that there was an upcoming primary. In this primary, Majette defeated McKinney. Although there was extensive research at the behest of the McKinney camp into the impact of crossover voting, there was the reality that even if you removed all of the possible crossover votes, there still were enough truly Democratic voters to have made the difference. There could be no denying that the voters of the 4th District wanted McKinney out and Majette was their vehicle for that message. Two years later, for reasons unknown, Majette decided to attempt a run for the United States Senate, an apparent act of political hara-kiri. And, McKinney was back at home in her congressional seat again.

Now two controversial years later, McKinney is again facing substantial opposition. It is in that environment that the disenfranchised voters of north DeKalb gathered to meet their candidate, attorney Hank Johnson. As with Majette, Johnson is attractive because of whom he is not. He is not Cynthia McKinney, which may be enough for more than a few voters in the 4th District. That is also substantially unfair to Johnson, who has earlier been a representative on the DeKalb County Commission, another venue for rough and tumble politics. That experience has given Johnson political exposure on a lower level, and he has become a known political entity in the District. And, there is more.

McKinney’s support has eroded in the community and there is little reason to detail her vibrant position on certain issues. Anyone who is within the reach of television, radio, print media or carrier pigeon is already well aware of her views on geopolitical issues. A look at the career list of McKinney’s donors reads like the Cairo telephone book. Because it is a career list of donors, it is impossible to tell who is currently giving her campaign money, but sprinkled amongst these donors are some interesting names such as Jane Fonda and Danny Glover. Also appearing in this list are names such as City of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Marvin Arrington, presumably not current supporters but a reminder of the fact that McKinney was once well regarded in the Democratic Party.

Her campaign style in this election cycle has been a deafening silence, which more than a few consider to be a blessing. The campaign strategy has been to avoid media contact lest she say yet another thing out of school which the media would pounce upon, landing her in further trouble with the electorate. In the initial primaries, she refused to debate with the other candidates, but with an impending runoff, she has finally agreed to debate Johnson. It should make for morbid television, with the pundits waiting impatiently for yet another controversial statement. There should be plenty of opportunity.

At McKinney’s primary night “victory party”, Cindy Sheehan and Medea Benjamin, two doyennes of the antiwar left, were in considerable presence. Sheehan is already a familiar face, but the lesser known Benjamin is a great fan of Dr. Castro and presumably these two ladies were meant to enhance the stellar character of the primary night event. But no amount of loud music and television klieg light could change the fact that McKinney had drawn fewer votes than necessary and was headed into a runoff. And several parts of the 4th Congressional District realized that McKinney could, once again, be defeated.

The effect has been electric. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has been absolutely breathless about the race. Not a day goes by without an article about the contest, with front page coverage in one instance. Local talk show host Neal Boortz has spent years pointedly razzing the voters of the 4th District for continuing to vote for Cynthia McKinney. Now, with the prospect of her repeated loss, he has withdrawn from comments on the election, which may be a blessing equal to McKinney’s silence on the issues. The media are keenly aware that change is afoot.

The excitement among certain parts of the electorate is palpable, and flurries of e-mails have been exchanged about the matter. As part of the effort to rid the 4th of McKinney, a Meet Hank Johnson event was held on the patio of a north DeKalb restaurant on Wednesday, July 26th. Normally prayer meeting night, the event was filled with perhaps 300 enthusiastic individuals. There were more than a few political lights present also, who could be immediately recognized since they were wearing suits and ties, inappropriate attire for 90 degree weather. Periodically, jet aircraft would taxi by on their way to the hangers at DeKalb Peachtree Airport. Standing under a tree, Johnson quietly spoke about his desire to represent all of the people in the 4th District. Of course, he was preaching to the choir, but it also was proof that a possible victory was near at hand. Liane Levitan spoke and then walked around the crowd with a red Hank Johnson campaign hat, collecting checks and cash from the assembled supporters. It is hard to tell if their enthusiasm was more for Hank Johnson or for the eviction of Cynthia McKinney, but there were loud voices of support.

It is inevitable that there is a racial component in the 4th District Congressional run-off race because the McKinney camp has posited it for years. It’s impossible to ignore but difficult for many people to discuss. Regardless of who wins the run-off and the general election in November, the 4th District will be represented by a black person. But because the McKinney camp has taken such a radical view of the voters based on racial identity, it also leaves her in a position of possibly narrowing voter support. For, in quiet moments, more than a few voters who have previously supported her must consider her ineffectiveness in Congress, a problem which draws across racial lines. And in that moment, a voter coalition is born. The proof of that possible coalition will occur on Tuesday, August 8th, when voters from across the 4th District go to the polls.

For the moment, Hank Johnson is “Mr. Right-Now” with many voters, simply someone who is not McKinney. Political representation is a two way street, and properly done, there is a true relationship between the voters and their elected representatives. Those who represent us can reflect our political concerns. While the racial component of the 4th District has changed over the years, the need for a hardworking middle of the road politician has not. The right person for that job is a moderate who is willing to serve all of his constituents; like former Congressman Elliott Levitas did thirty years ago. The map of the 4th District has changed over the years because of computer driven political tinkering, but the need for reliable representation in Washington has only grown. If you look at his positions on issues and his political roots in the 4th District, Hank Johnson may be Mr. Right.

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