Racial tensions are brewing over a movement to add at-large seats to the Fayetteville City Council.
Mayor Colvin weighed in recently. His comments to the Fayetteville Observer caught my attention. Colvin opposes the change:
“They know better than anyone the history of our city, to where there was significant imbalance between minority leadership being elected because of the way the system was set up, so much so that the Justice Department had to come in and make the adjustment for us,” Colvin said. “And so it just looks a little disingenuous that past council members, most of which who were beaten in this system, now want to change the rules and dilute the voting power of the minority community.”
Colvin has won multiple city-wide elections. The citizens that elect him every two years are the exact same people that will be voting for or against the at-large seats at issue. Apparently, Colvin thinks the residents of Fayetteville are good enough to elect him, but can’t be trusted to give other African Americans a fair shake? It’s kind of hard to figure. It also ignores the reality that in 2021, there are more African American voters than white voters in Cumberland County.
I realize that at-large seats pose a problem for individuals without significant resources. It’s expensive to run for office city-wide. Democrats like Mayor Colvin are often forced to contend with the influence of wealthy business interests that rally behind Republican candidates. However, Mayor Colvin went straight to skin color, as if poor white people in Fayetteville don’t have the same disadvantages as poor black people to fund a campaign.
Fractions Increase Factions
I continue to support at-large districts. My support starts with the premise that we are a divided city. We chop ourselves up into camps. Some are racial. Some are financial. Some are partisan. Unsurprisingly, the politics in City Hall reflect these divisions. Council members fight it out in special committees, if they can even agree on who’s going to lead the committee. If they can’t, they’ll make two committees to do the same thing.
This could change if we’re given the option to vote for a majority of the council with the use of at-large seats. To get elected, council members would have to build consensus on issues that impact the entire city. This would require political compromise, something the city desperately needs. Simply put, a majority of the council would represent the entire city, not 1/9th.
Speaking of fractions, look at our turnout in municipal elections. It’s in the single digits lately and lags behind the rest of the state. Why go vote if you only get to vote for one city council member? Most people don’t. Here’s a chart of the votes our council members received in the 2019 municipal election. There were 149,847 registered voters in Fayetteville at that time:
|District 1||Jenson||819 votes||0.55% of Registered Voters|
|District 2||Ingram||705 votes||0.47% of Registered Voters|
|District 3||Waddell||1,334 votes||0.89% of Registered Voters|
|District 4||Haire||1,164 votes||0.78% of Registered Voters|
|District 5||Dawkins||1,016 votes||0.68% of Registered Voters|
|District 6||Davis||1,019 votes||0.68% of Registered Voters|
|District 7||Wright||893 votes||0.60% of Registered Voters|
|District 8||Banks-McLaughlin||672 votes||0.45% of Registered Voters|
|District 9||Kinston||658 votes||0.44% of Registered Voters|
Can we honestly defend this system? You can be elected to the Fayetteville City Council with the support of less than 1/2 of 1% of the registered voters in town. As long as you keep your tiny pocket of supporters happy, you’re back in office in two years.
We’ve had the current system in place for 21 years. I’m not happy with the direction of the city I’m choosing to raise my sons in. It could be so much better. That’s why I’m supporting a change. Whatever happens, dividing people on racial lines goes against everything we stand for as Americans. As long as those in power continue to filter every political decision through a racial lens, we’ll never progress as a city.
Are we doomed to fight this same fight every couple of decades?
I hope not.