Since 1996, race has been a deciding factor in mayoral elections. Before 1996, all serious candidates for mayor were usually white; blacks had the tongue and cheek task of choosing the “lesser of the evils.”
Abe Pierce tried to change that. He campaigned for mayor using the theme, “Together we can work it out.” Looking to the future, he wanted to demonstrate the prospect of racial cooperation before, during, and after the election. He believed it was the formula for Monroe’s future success. At his inauguration, a huge banner that spanned across the Civic Center arena, featured a black and white hand embraced with his togetherness theme underneath.
At the end of his four years, Pierce had convinced the public that the color of the mayor didn’t matter, but he couldn’t persuade them to re-elect him. Even minorities didn’t turn out to give him a second term. They said he was too laid back. He could have played the race card and stroked the fears of the community but that would have been against his basic “togetherness” belief.
In the last two decades, the politics of race has been one factor that has effectively divided the races in our city. Between elections, the city has promoted “one city-one future,” but at election time, campaigns stooped to racial politics. All white candidates have been painted as some form of racist or Klansman who would hurt the city’s growth. The races polarized, and Blacks turned out in large numbers to defeat the “racist people who live in North Monroe.”
After the election, “Klan hats” and racists themes were packed away and the city returned to the “One City-One Future” theme.
It has worked. In 2001, Guy Barr, then president of State Farm, was characterized as a Klansman; he was not. Don Spatafora, who spent a lifetime helping the poor and minorities, was depicted as a Klansman. In 2016 a photoshopped picture of Ray Armstrong circulated throughout the community; he was not a Klansman.
The new boogie man is Friday Ellis. A gag photo of Ellis dressed up in a MAGA hat is being circulated in the Black community. Comments associated with the posts say the photo means Ellis is a racist.
The 2016 photo was one of several satire costume gags featured in a community event sponsored in the Garden District. The picture was a satire of Donald Trump in a “show me the money pose” with his wife Ashley dressed as a thinly clad Stormy Daniels. Both black and white participants dressed up for laughs as they posed as Richard Nixon, Trump, and a variety of other public personalities.
Is Ellis a man who hates blacks? His personal history suggests just the opposite.
In speeches, he refers to his loving family, including his medically challenged adopted daughter.
What he doesn’t mention is that a few years ago, he and his wife fell in love with an African-American foster child and decided to adopt her. They did so with the full knowledge that the girl had severe medical issues that would cost them financially and emotionally for years. The child’s cancerous illness requires constant attention and is degenerative, and without divine intervention, it will undoubtedly shorten her life span.
Ellis and his wife Ashley gave up on having more children in 2013. On February 12, 2013, she wrote an entry in her spiritual journal, putting the matter of more children into God’s hands. Four years later, after praying over a decision to adopt with friends and counselors, they spotted the curly-headed foster child and fell in love with her.
Their decision to adopt her was confirmed when they learned that their new daughter was born on February 13, 2013, the next day after Ashley put the matter of more children in God’s hands. They felt she was born in answer to a prayer, no matter how challenging the answer; and they were determined to provide her with love and hope.
According to the political fliers and social media posts, the public is being told that Ellis and his wife are racists who hate black people because he wore the MAGA in the gag photo.
To their credit, none of the four challengers have played the race card in the April 4th election. None of them have a personal history or public stances that suggest that they would make decisions based on race.
Those who oppose Mr. Ellis should attack his political agenda, ideas, and programs. They should campaign hard, knock on doors, and tell the merits of their candidacies. That’s politics, and it is fair game. Playing the race card is a page from our dark past that is divisive and hurts future efforts to bring unity in the community.
Ironically, according to recent campaign finance reports, many of the incumbent’s principal financial backers wear MAGA hats, and some were in attendance at the Trump rally in Monroe; their hats are real.
It appears that all of the mayoral challengers are trying hard to promote their own campaigns to improve Monroe, as they should be. That doesn’t automatically make them racist or evil in some way.
All four of the challengers represent a new generation that is focused on issues and avoids the racial politics of power and intimidation that has been characteristic of Monroe politics throughout the 21st century.
Enough is enough.