I would call the Operation Turnout: Voter Education Forum at Shiloh Baptist Church Thursday night a success.
It was the first time organizers had attempted such a venture, and only three invited candidates were no-shows. Two of those sent representatives.
Members of several black churches and social organizations organized the event in hopes of reinforcing the need for citizens to register to vote and then actually cast a ballot intelligently.
At the forum, candidates were allotted 10 minutes to introduce themselves and then respond to at least three of nine chosen topics.
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As a voter, I have seen far too many politicians come to the black community only at election time, emerge long enough to utter a couple of catch phrases and then vanish again. I hope that doesn't happen this time.
Here's what stood out to me:
■ All six candidates for the three Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council at-large seats showed up. Incumbents Chuck Ellinger and Linda Gorton are seeking re-election. The other candidates are George Brown, Steve Kay, Kathy Plomin and Don Pratt. None of them seemed to be taking the race for granted.
Pratt, the perennial candidate that many people discount, spoke of his and Muhammad Ali's efforts decades ago to protest the Vietnam War. The champ won his fight with the federal government, but Pratt didn't and went to prison.
Pratt was saying that his drive to shine a spotlight on wrongs and make them right wouldn't be sidetracked by self-interest.
"I want a better democracy," he said.
Linda Gorton pointed out how she has chosen to be very public in appearances in black neighborhoods throughout the year.
She held up a copy of the recently released, "State of Black Lexington" report and promised to continue her years of pushing to bring equity to our educational system and social service agencies. I believe her.
George Brown, who had served as District 1 Councilman for 12 years, is now running for an at-large seat. He pointed out that voters might not realize they have four representatives on the council: the three at-large members and their district representative.
He stressed that less than 1 percent of government spending is directed to minority-owned businesses and that only 4 or 5 percent goes to female business owners. His would be an extra pair of eyes on the council to monitor and improve those numbers, he said. I don't hear anyone talking about that issue anymore.
But one of the most air-sucking moments for me was when at-large candidate Steve Kay — standing in front of Marty Clifford, who is vying for the District 1 seat against Chris Ford, who is black — said he had intentionally never run for that office because he believed it should continue to be a minority seat. Clifford is white, and so is Kay, who lives in District 1.
Years ago, three districts were set aside by those who wrote the charter for the merged government in hopes that minorities would have representation on the council. District 1 was one of those seats.
If Clifford wins and Brown loses, George Myers of District 8, which is predominantly white, will be the council's only person of color. If that happens, none of the three inner-city districts will have minority representation.
When his turn came, Clifford noted some black people who have said his race shouldn't matter in the battle for the council seat. "Racism hurts all of us," he said.
Clifford also talked about his difficult childhood as an orphan and of the positive changes he has helped bring to the North Limestone Street corridor, where he lives and serves as the founder and president of the neighborhood association.
His opponent, Chris Ford, who is black, chose to illustrate his knowledge of housing problems in Lexington by saying he would ensure an affordable-housing trust fund becomes reality.
Ford, president and Chief Executive Officer of REACH, Inc., also promised to safeguard African American landmarks such as the Charles Young Center, the Dunbar Center, the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center and historic black churches.
■ By far, though, the Congressional 6th District candidates provided the most drama. Andy Barr couldn't make it, but his wife, Eleanor, did. She stood, told the audience she is not good at public speaking, apologized and sat down, leaving an awkward silence in the sanctuary.
A representative of Ben Chandler announced that Chandler was about 10 minutes from the church, coming from an engagement in Lincoln County. If the audience was unwilling to wait, the Chandler representative said, he would willingly stand in.
Most of the audience waited and, at about 8:10 p.m., Chandler rushed in, sleeves rolled up, and began his 10-minute presentation. The audience ate it up.
After pointing out political differences between him and Barr, which you've no doubt seen on the airwaves, Chandler evoked the name of his grandfather, Happy Chandler, who as Major League Baseball commissioner played a role in opening the door for Jackie Robinson, the league's first black player.
Chandler was trying to demonstrate a long familial history of helping minorities succeed and, judging by the number of people flocking to him after the forum, it might have worked.
Regardless, the evening was a refreshing change from being bombarded by negative TV ads. Organizers said other forums would take place after the elections to help the winners get more involved with the black community in particular and the city as a whole.
They will be well-worth attending.