April 3, 2008

Minority candidates go 1 for 6 in local elections

Pending the outcome of Ken Lumpkin's recount for the County Board, it looks like the number of minorities holding elected office in Racine County will remain the same. Lumpkin appears to be off the County Board, while the Rev. Melvin Hargrove was elected to the School Board.

The African-American community had several solid candidates come up short on Election Day. Jameel Ghuari ran a strong campaign in the Second District, but came up short against incumbent Bob Anderson. Lumpkin lost to Alderman Jim Kaplan in both the City Council and County Board race, Karen Norton finished fourth for the School Board and Melissa Taylor lost her County Board bid. African-Americans made up 20 percent of Racine's population in the 2000 Census.

No Hispanic candidates ran for office this spring, and as far as I know, none hold local office. About 14 percent of people living in Racine were Hispanic in the last census.

Women are also under-represented. Sandy Weidner is the only woman on the City Council, and five of the 23 County Board members are women (Katherine Buske, Gaynell Dyess, Diane Lange, Karen Nelson and Pamela Zenner-Richards). Four of the nine School Board members are now women (Pamala Handrow, Susan Kutz, Julie McKenna, Gretchen Warner). Racine County has the fewest women holding elected office in southeast Wisconsin.

It's clear women and minorities are under-represented in our local government. As for what can be done, that's largely up to candidates. Hargrove worked hard, got key local endorsements and received the most votes in the School Board election. It's a good model for others to follow.

Local government can help by finding and encouraging minorities and women to attend committee meetings, get involved and get appointed to local boards and commissions. From there, they should get needed experience and contacts to run for office. This seems especially important for Hispanic leaders, who haven't gotten much traction at the polls.

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