News+Opinion » Barney Blakeney

Once again, black voters fall prey to apathy

Rats and Representation

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I spent Election Day at the Joseph Floyd Manor housing facility. It was an interesting day, but unfortunately the candidates I worked with all lost to incumbents.

This was the second time I had ever worked with political campaigns. The first was some 30 years ago. Coming home from college, a group of my friends and I came up with the idea to run a campaign to elect a guy to Charleston City Council, Clyde Holmes. We had a shoestring campaign, but we thought we could change the world. Instead, we got our butts whipped!

Holmes was a social worker at the old Bayside Manor housing complex. He organized the tenant association and some recreational activities for the kids. He enlisted aid from state Rep. Paul Cantrell to get buses to take kids living at Bayside to Sanders Clyde Elementary. At the time, many children had to walk more than a mile and cross Morrison Drive to get to Sanders Clyde. He also helped get buses for students at Burke High School.

With help from the city's ombudsman's office, Holmes also worked to reestablish neighborhood associations on the East Side, in North Central, and some other communities.

We thought the voters were ready for change, but we got beat like we'd stolen something. Holmes was so frustrated by the loss, he joined the Air Force and left town. He never came back.

Tuesday's election shows how black voters are still apathetic about changing their respective city representatives. Some 800 voters are registered to vote at Joseph Floyd, but fewer than 300 took advantage of the opportunity.

Two city council members serve voters in that area: James Lewis Jr. and Jimmy Gallant. I don't have a problem with either of those guys; I just think two terms in office is enough. Gallant was elected to his third term and Lewis was elected to his fourth. Meanwhile, Louis Waring, the District 7 incumbent, was elected to a fifth term. Interestingly, voters in the city's three majority white council districts put three new members on council.

After all the shouting was over Tuesday, I reflected on a conversation I had with a tenant of Joseph Floyd after the polls closed. The guy has lived for the past several months in a building that serves physically or mentally disabled members of our community. He said he didn't vote because he doesn't believe voting changes anything.

Changing the subject from a conversation that I thought would go nowhere, I asked him how he liked living in the building. That's when he told me about the rats. He told me he killed seven in one night, adding that another tenant found three under his bed covers.

The next day I ran into an old classmate who lives in the building. I asked him about the rats. They're a problem, he said, but because the rent's affordable, he doesn't complain. He didn't vote either.

Management at the building, Charleston County Housing Authority, says the problem isn't serious. They've gotten six specific complaints, says Karen Gorham, Charleston County director of public housing. Other complaints generally come from residents who are cluttering pack rats or don't keep their places clean.

The Authority has a contract with a firm to provide pest control.

A few months ago I wrote about complaints of drug abuse and sales in the building as a result of lax security measures. Gorham says those issues have been resolved.

One would think the representatives of these districts would do something to address these issues. Perhaps the problems at Joseph Floyd will help some blacks who don't vote to open their eyes and see why we need to change leaders from time to time.

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