“White Out”

I would have prefered “White Out” to be about twice as long, and with twice as much fact-checking.

While it is true that Stacey DeBoise Luster had never run for political office when she first ran for City Council, the article would have done well to have outlined how she won the 1997 election.

In the article, Luster says that  she’s “not going to condemn the political system in Worcester,” and she acknowledges that “there are people that are in groups, people in the mix. They are the political insiders.”

Luster’s first City Council campaign wasn’t just an out-of-the-blue upset; she was successfully able to use her personal connections to reach out to those who would contribute more than $27,000 (!) to her campaign, to hire a good campaign manager, and to get her message out to voters.  In short, she was able to tap into a piece of that network, or a network, and succeed where many others had failed.

[In case you have a tough time remembering the late 1990s, read this article on Luster’s first term in office.]

I would have preferred a discussion of Shirley Wright and Ogretta McNeil’s successful candidacies for School Committee as well. 

Shirley Wright had lost in the 1989 School Committee race, but ran again in 1995 and came in third.  What happened?

“Wright was the biggest spender in the School Committee race, raising more than $22,000.  She had raised only $5,000 in her unsuccessful 1989 campaign.

“Building the organization was aided by Wright’s work in the community, [campaign manager Bari] Boyer said.  Affiliations with groups such as the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, of which she was president from 1990 to 1993, proved a great asset.”  (source:”Wright wins seat on school board”, by Clive McFarlane, T&G, 8 November 1995)

Ogretta McNeil had name recognition in the community: she was a trustee of the University of Massachusetts, she was part of the citizens committee that helped the School Committee select a new superintendent in 1993,

When McNeil ran for school committee in 1997, there was a sitting black school committee member (Wright, who was not seeking re-election).  In that year, there were “seven black and Hispanic candidates, thought to be an unprecedented number”, and two of those candidates were DeBoise Luster and McNeil.  (source:”Minority candidates’ presence grows in city”, by Winston W. Wiley, T&G, 1 July 1997)

Note that all three women had campaign managers (though McNeil’s had never before run a campaign), and that both Wright and DeBoise Luster raised over $20,000.

Also of interest: “The McNeil and DeBoise campaigns targeted mailings, for example, in which they matched voter registration lists against names of those who voted in the election two years ago – reaching voters who were most likely to go the polls on Election Day.”  (source:”Minority campaigns are ‘coming of age'”, by Clive McFarlane, T&G, 12 November 1997)

This is not to diminish the real achievements by all of these women.  There’s no shame in making friends, reaching out to voters, and learning how to run a campaign.

And it’s also not to diminish the very real concerns people of color have about full participation in our government.  We have to look no further than last December’s appointment of two new library board members.  There were plenty of folks that would have made the library board more diverse, and the City Council chose two relatively well-connected white folks.

But it is tough — period — for a non-incumbent to be elected in this city, and it’s well nigh impossible for a non-incumbent to win a Council seat without raising tens of thousands of dollars.  (See here for excellent analysis.)

Let’s acknowledge that and learn from those who have been successful in the past.

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