Saturday, May 23, 2009

Councilman Dowdell’s actions continue to be puzzling

(Originally published 5/23/09)

I just don't get the Rev. Arthur Dowdell.

Fresh from ripping the scab off of racial wounds by unilaterally removing decorative Confederate flags from the oldest cemetery in Auburn, the city councilman has now proclaimed that city officials should redraw ward lines to get more black residents on the City Council.

He says he wants this done "at the negotiating table" and not in the courts.

(Which, apparently, is why he already had an attorney working on it by the time he brought it up with the council Tuesday. But I digress.)

I've come to expect eccentric positions from Councilman Dowdell. I wish I could say that his irresponsible actions at and ill-conceived comments about the cemetery were a surprise.

But when he said Tuesday that his position as the only black resident on the city council equates to "taxation without representation," I was bewildered.

Does Dowdell believe that only black council members can properly represent black residents? He says no.

Why, then, would new wards be necessary?

Ward 6 councilman Dick Phelan had it right: Under Dowdell's logic, women in Auburn are even more underrepresented than black citizens.

But if that gender imbalance on the council resulted in inequitable city policies, the ladies and I would have organized by now.

I know I'm not alone in my disappointment that Councilman Dowdell is threatening the city with a lawsuit about this. While such a lawsuit would almost certainly be thrown out of court, the city would have to go to the time –- and taxpayer expense -– to answer it.

I know cities face lawsuits, even frivolous ones, all the time. But you don't expect them to be led by a member of city government.

But let's assume Dowdell really just wants to advance the admirable cause of finding ways to increase the voice of minorities in city governance. His approach is still based on several assumptions that are just plain wrong:

  • That minorities can only have a voice in city affairs through council.

  • That more minorities would like to run for the city council, but the current ward map in some unknown way precludes from doing so. (This ignores, of course, the fact that the current ward plan had to –- and did -– meet with the approval of the U.S. Department of Justice, which reviewed it for fair minority representation in a process known as "pre-clearance" before it was put before voters in August 2006.)

  • That minorities would be more inclined to support minority challengers over their current council member simply because they're minorities, regardless of the challenger's ability or experience.

  • That city policies would be substantively different with more minorities on the council than they are with the current council. This last point, sadly, assumes the ugliest things about those men and women with whom Dowdell currently serves.

    There are plenty of avenues for minorities –- and everyone else, for that matter –- to be involved with city government.

    In fact, since municipal elections are just over a year away, a diverse and robust field of candidates in Ward 1 would be a great place to start.

    Over the past two months, Dowdell has shown a disturbing proclivity to play the race card.

    By doing so, he's failing his constituents –- black, white and everyone else.

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