Qualifications of a Black Political Candidate?

Holly Mitchell, Karen Bass

The mid-year elections are coming up in California where the primaries for national and state office are sending a flurry of political junk mail our way. Between the television commercials, the mail and the lawn signs, a person doesn’t know who to vote for if they’re not plugged in and “in the know.”

The sophistication of the black voter is always called into question lately. The black community gets blamed when somebody’s issue (ballot initiative) doesn’t win or somebody’s candidate takes a fall…it’s the black voter’s fault. Voter turnout wasn’t high enough, or voters didn’t “get in” in time to make a difference. Most of the time, our community does get it.

Without the trickery of slate mailers, politician and preacher endorsements, our community knows who’s done what and who deserves their vote. Sometimes, it gets a little twisted—but not often. Still we need to be reminded what we should be looking for in a political candidate. Whether it’s a fresh face, or an old face, the politic is the same…someone true to the issues of the people.

Every year, a BUNCH of Bozos we’ve never seen before come before us and ask us for the most precious thing we’ve got…our vote. And we know little about them. There is no such thing as the perfect candidate (so don’t bother looking for any), but there is such a thing as a perfect fit for an office. There is such a thing as a perfect time to run. And is such a thing as the perfect reason to support someone. So, how do you know who to support and when to support them?

Dolores Huerta, Holly Mitchell

A perfect fit is someone who has been groomed to lead in a particular way. A person who has served the community in advocating for policy, in a CBO (community-based organization) service leadership role, and understands the policy issues around funding priority programs — not because a script has been prepared for them — but because they run a community program. And it doesn’t hurt to have run a community program. You can tell someone how to ride a bike, but if you ain’t never been on one, oh well…I don’t want to be the first to ride with you. Hit me back when you know how to ride. That’s like a relationship consultant telling you how to keep your woman, and he ain’t got one. What’s wrong with that picture? The candidate has to be a fit for the office they are seeking. Somebody like a Holly Mitchell. She is running for Assembly because she knows how to run an agency (ride a bike), and knows the policy issues around children and family services that have been cut out of the state budget the past few years. She can be an advocate in the same way her predecessor, Karen Bass (who’s running for Congress), was an advocate after she led a CBO (Community Coalition). That’s what makes her a fit.

The timing to run also has to be right. The opening has to be there and the opening has to be right. Not just a vacant seat, but a call to conscience where “now is the time” to project a particular mindset into office. I always recall the many stories our President told on the campaign trail about people telling him “it wasn’t his time.” He had to remind the people “of the time” as the opportunity was ripe because the dissatisfaction of the American people was ripe for change. It wasn’t about an open seat and the next anointed, or the self-appointed.

There comes a time when time dictates agenda, not the other way around (agenda dictates time). The time says we need a person in, say Calfornia’s 47th Assembly seat (serving South Los Angeles), that can stave off social welfare budget cuts because of the experience of having run a program important to single mothers and poor children. Someone like, say, a Holly Mitchell.

Then there’s the reason for the season. What’s makes it time to stand with someone, at the right time, when the agenda is clear and the community is in need. What is the difference between somebody who knows and somebody lookin’ to know? Who do you call on? The person who knows, or the person looking to know? The person you’ve seen on the bike, or the person who says they can ride but you haven’t seen them on a bike yet? The reasoning has to be right. You go with what you know. When the ballot asks “who can ride Karen’s bike,” do you go with the first person who yells, “I can.” Or do you go find the person you know can ride a bike. Someone like, say…a Holly Mitchell. I’m jus sayin…

Sometimes, instead of always looking for people to tell us who we should be voting for, maybe we tell them what we’re looking for and make that a reality. Sometimes to get what you want, you have to know what you’re looking for. And if you know what you’re looking for, then you ought to just say so. Okay, I will….Holly Mitchell for the 47th State Assembly seat. I think she’s just what the community is looking for.

Anthony Asadullah Samad

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Politics. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com.


  1. hwood007 says

    This is a well written article. I look to vote for someone who thinks as I do on several topics, the more the better. I like folks with several skills, a CBO is ok but I would not vote for her/him if that were the only skill they had.


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