What if Jamael Tito Brown, who is black, had won the Democratic primary for Youngstown mayor and white party officials refused to support him and, instead, publicly backed a white independent candidate?
Would black leaders have shrugged and said, “That’s politics; who are we to tell Democratic Party officials that they must support the nominee?”
Or, would they have demanded the resignation of the party turncoats. Failing that, would they have urged the chairman to strip the disloyal Democrats of their leadership positions?
The answer is as obvious as last week’s ploy by several black leaders to create dissension within the Mahoning County Democratic Party by implying that Chairman David Betras is the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Why the attack on Betras?
Because he had the temerity to remove from the party’s executive committee three blacks who are supporting black independent candidate for mayor, DeMaine Kitchen.
The Democratic nominee, John A. McNally IV, is white. In the May primary, McNally defeated Tito Brown, president of city council.
Although the vote was close and the voting patterns showed a clear white-black divide, Betras contends that party leaders have a responsibility to support the winner in the general election.
Indeed, being a member of one of the two major political parties in the country means belonging to an organization with bylaws, rules and procedures.
Consider this description from Yahoo Voices:
“The major function of a political party is to nominate — name — candidates for public office. That is, the parties select candidates and then present them to the voters. Then the parties work to help their candidates win elections.”
The executive committee members are expected to set an example for the rest of the membership by their loyalty and dedication.
And way the two parties have been able to maintain their major standing in American politics is by embracing the principle of party discipline.
That’s what Betras has been preaching since he took the reins of the county Democratic Party in 2009.
Well aware of the past dysfunction of the organization due to incompetent leadership that led to infighting, he made it clear from the beginning that he expects leaders to be party loyalists.
His decision, therefore, to remove 1st Ward Councilwoman Annie Gillam, 2nd Ward Councilman T.J. Rodgers and former 1st Ward Councilman Artis Gillam from the executive committee because they’re supporting Kitchen was to be expected.
Betras also is attempting to remove Artis Gillam as the 1st Ward district leader by persuading a majority of the party officers to go along with him.
Finally, he has asked Jaladah Aslam, the party’s vice chairman for labor relations, to resign. Aslam has refused.
Leaders in the black community have raised the specter of racism in the chairman’s actions.
Betras can be accused of many things: having an inflated ego; being a publicity hound; self-aggrandizing; and even a blowhard. But, to accuse him of being a racist is to indulge in the kind of gutter politics that is tearing this country apart.
Artis and Annie Gillam, who have benefited greatly from their involvement in the Democratic Party, have been around long enough to remember the dictatorial reign of the late Don L. Hanni Jr.
Hanni engendered party loyalty not through diplomacy but by threats and intimidation.
If an officeholder refused to pay the appropriate homage to the chairman, he soon found himself with an opponent in the primary.
Betras’ move against the Gillams, Rodgers and Aslam is justified and appropriate. Serving in leadership positions in the party is a privilege, not a right.
That’s also true for having a government job or holding public office.
Kitchen, who is Mayor Charles Sammarone’s chief of staff, is a registered Democrat. However, by choosing to run as an independent against the party’s nominee, he has opened himself up to criticism and attack.
And, by black leaders accusing Betras of racism, the election for mayor has taken on a different complexion.
White voters who may have stayed home Nov. 5 undoubtedly will be aroused from their apathy — because of the racial undercurrent in the battle for Youngstown mayor.