What Integration Looks Like

The New York Times On Bloomberg's efforts to woo black clergy:

In his quest for a third term, Mr. Bloomberg has deprived Mr. Thompson of what many once regarded as his political birthright: the blessings of the city's most powerful black ministers, who together preach to tens of thousands of congregants each week. And to win them over, he has deployed an unusual combination of city money, private philanthropy, political appointments and personal attention, creating a web of ties to black clergy members that is virtually unheard of for a white elected official in New York City.

Some prominent ministers have been appointed by Mr. Bloomberg to influential city boards and committees. Others have enjoyed the administration's help in buying city property or winning zoning concessions for pet projects. A few of the largest institutions, including Abyssinian and the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens, have taken in millions of dollars in contracts to provide city services during Mr. Bloomberg's eight years in office.

Looming over it all is Mr. Bloomberg's dazzling wealth, whether already bestowed -- as in the case of Mr. Butts -- or hoped for down the line.

"We have to come to his foundation sooner or later," said the Rev. Timothy Birkett, pastor of the Church Alive Community Church in the Bronx, who is backing the mayor this year. "We hope that he will be receptive."

Those who support Mr. Bloomberg say that the mayor has earned their endorsements strictly on the merits of his record in office, especially on education and crime. But some critics say the outpouring of support owes more to the dependence of many black churches on a friendly ear at City Hall.

This strikes me as politics as usual, no? I mean to the extent that having a billionaire mayor is "usual." I've been doing a lot of reading about Detroit lately, and this reminds me of Henry Ford's relationship with the black church in the 40s. Ford was a rabid anti-semite, but he saw how he could use black labor as a power base to dilute white unions.

Obviously, this is different, but the role is the same--the black church as a pathway to black popular power. I deeply suspect that you could do a similar story (with some changes for the conditions) if not about Bloomberg and synagogues in Brooklyn, then other instances when mayors used community institutions to curry votes. Politics is transactional.

I guess what makes this different is that there's a black guy in the race. I don't know how to say this though--it doesn't feel like it. Not that Thompson isn't black, but it just doesn't feel like it has the same significance. We're entering into a kind of Raheem Morris/Jim Caldwell phase of black politics. That's probably a good thing.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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