I attended Gary Palmer’s victory celebration at the Birmingham Marriott and I was blinded by the “white.” There may have been an African-American there, but I didn’t see one. This should not be a surprise since Alabama’s 6th Congressional District is 88.8% white and 7.7% African-American.
People generally think of Birmingham’s two Congressional Districts as District 6 and 7, but if you look at the geography, District 6 includes much of the Birmingham region without the heart of Birmingham, but also includes a large area South of Birmingham almost to Montgomery. (See map above)
District 7 is a sliver of Birmingham and then dominates West Alabama all the way down to South Alabama. (See map)
This is called gerrymandering and it was done all over America to give minorities an opportunity to have representation. It has certainly done that, but in my opinion, the unintended consequences have been a disaster.
I don’t think whites, blacks, or other minorities have benefited because gerrymandering has created almost complete gridlock. Congressional districts are generally dominated by one party and one race.
Blacks don’t have to talk to whites and whites don’t have to talk with blacks. Democrats don’t have to talk to Republicans nor Republicans to Democrats.
We blame folks in Congress for fighting with one another and not getting anything done, but this is the system we created for them.
Locally, dividing ourselves into racial voting districts causes us all kinds of grief. The City of Birmingham is segmented into nine council districts—three white and six black. Birmingham Councilors work diligently to represent their districts, but sometimes overlook what is best for our city. It’s interesting to note the Birmingham City Council originally was elected city-wide, but white councilors brought suit to elect by district to preserve white representation.
Jefferson County Commissioners are elected from five districts with none being elected countywide. Commissioners may have good intentions to represent our county until there is a vote that is important to the folks in their district. The vote to close Cooper Green Hospital was three white commissioners representing majority white districts in favor and two black commissioners representing majority black districts against. If the commissioners had voted any other way—they would have ended their political careers.
I had an opportunity to talk with a County Commissioner who was in office years ago when the commissioners were elected countywide. He said he met with and was sensitive to citizens all over Jefferson County–rich and poor, white and black, Democratic and Republican. He said today it’s not necessary for our commissioners to leave their district.
So we know who represents whites and we know who represents African-Americans. We know who represents the Democrats and we know who represents Republicans.
But the big question is who represents what is best for metropolitan Birmingham and who represents what is best for America?
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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising Agency and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).