Black Lives Matter has made news in the past months in connection with protests at the Minnesota State Fair, along light rail and at the governor’s residence by a St. Paul group that’s linked to the movement. The next question should be if the movement is able to flex its muscle politically.
Two protest organizers are seeking city offices in St. Paul’s upcoming municipal elections — Rashad Turner is a write-in candidate for the school board, and Trahern Crews is running for the City Council in the First Ward. Both are endorsed by the Green Party. A third candidate who was part of the State Fair protest, Linda Freeman, is running for the school board.
Right now, it is hard to tell who has the better shot at winning. The highly competitive and controversial school board race is an at-large competition, with eight candidates formally on the ballot for the four seats up for grabs, so, logically, a candidate could win with 15 percent of the vote.
In the City Council races, the First Ward includes the African-American-heavy neighborhood of Rondo, and the two council members to have served the ward before the incumbent — Melvin Carter III and Debbie Montgomery (a veteran police officer) — were both African-American. But incumbent Dai Thao was DFL-endorsed this month after a hung convention last spring.
Now there are issues that must be addressed about African-Americans and minorities in general, including racial inequality, racial profiling and racial bias. As an example, in 2010, there was a suburban City Council situation that still bothers me. Two minority candidates ran and lost that year. Both later left the city for nonpolitical roles. The frustrating part was that one of those seats was taken by a Tea Party activist who polarized city and government politics with his anti-government rants and political statements. He lost re-election in 2014, but his replacement was a white male.
Yet I now view Black Lives Matter as similar to the Tea Party in terms of its political style — holding a rigid ideology and being abrasive, confrontational, aggressive, polarizing, blunt and outspoken, more interested in making political statements than in getting work done.
I can already envision massive tension and polarization if Crews is elected to the City Council. Particularly if Sixth Ward Council Member Dan Bostrom is re-elected, since Bostrom is a retired police officer and his son Matt is the Ramsey County sheriff.
As for Turner, I could see the same in a school board that has gone through much turmoil in the last two years and does not need more controversy.
It should be noted that two other African-Americans are running for the school board — DFL-endorsed Zuki Ellis and incumbent Keith Hardy. Both, I think, have much better credentials.
The same goes for Freeman — a candidate such as early childhood and Head Start teacher Mary Vanderwert has much more experience and is in a better position to serve on the school board.
I am not trying to out Black Lives Matter supporters as the only controversial candidates. Republican school board candidate Greg Copeland was so controversial as Maplewood’s city manager that the opposition won in 2007 on the platform of firing him. He was dismissed when his contract was bought out.
Still, while Nov. 3 elections in St. Paul could show if Black Lives Matter can pull political muscle, I think it is best if voters look beyond the rhetoric and think about what will really happen if these candidates get elected.
William Cory Labovitch is a political activist who lives in South St. Paul.