Are black politicians easy targets?
In 2007, Sheila Dixon made history when she became Baltimore’s first female mayor. Two years later, Dixon is making history again as she stands trial over allegations that she took gift cards intended for the needy. Her case is just one of several scandals which involve black politicians.
Last week, former Louisiana congressman, William Jefferson, was sentenced to 13 years in prison after being convicted of bribery charges. In February, former Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was released from jail after he was convicted on charges related to a sex scandal.
Many may say that these recent cases are simply examples of politics as usual, but others argue that they only provide further evidence of a racial disparity that exists when it comes to allegations of wrongdoing among politicians.
According to a recent report, seven African-American congressional leaders are currently being investigated by the House ethics committee. “Not a single white lawmaker is currently the subject of a full-scale ethics committee probe,” the report says.
All of the members under investigation are Democrats, including Representative Charles Rangel of New York and Representative Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan, who also happens to be Kwame Kilpatrick’s mother.
“I’ve always been under the assumption that black politicians were an easy target,” says Dr. Ronald Walters, a former political science professor at Howard University and longtime advisor to the Congressional Black Caucus. “We all know… racism is an institution in American culture. When something like that happens, I don’t stutter.” Walters, who is African-American, believes that black politicians often lack the same political clout or wealth as their white counterparts, which makes them more vulnerable to investigations.
“That could be,” says Dr. Matthew Crenson, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. However, Crenson, who’s white, doesn’t believe the ethics probes surrounding the seven black congressional leaders are racially motivated. “It’s kind of the opposite of what you expect. When Republicans are in charge, Republicans get in trouble… but when Democrats are in charge, Democrats get in trouble.”
He notes that some of the congressional members who were removed from office more recently as a result of an ethics probe were actually white Republicans: former House majority leader Tom Delay of Texas, who was embroiled in a campaign finance scandal, and Bob Livingston of Louisiana, who admitted to having extramarital affairs.
The verdict? While black politicians continue to break barriers, many, like their white colleagues, will also continue to break the law. However, the jury is still out as to whether their skin color makes them more visible.