Troy Williams, Columnist
In an open letter to the City of Fayetteville, a citizen- led group called VoteYesFayetteville, wrote in
support of a petition drive, saying our city finds itself at an important crossroads. One of the original petition- signers, former Mayor Tony Chavonne, said:
“The discussion is really a simple one — do Fayetteville citizens want to have the opportunity to vote for a structure of government with a combination of districts and at-large members, like 9 of the 12 largest cities in North Carolina, and like other governmental bodies in Cumberland County?”
As word of the petition creeps around town, some naysayers are already accusing petition organizers of being upset because the Fayetteville City Council is too Black. If that is the case, former council member Rev. Chalmers McDougald, an African American and an original signer, isn’t buying it.
McDougald, who served on the council as a district representative, says he has no future elected service intentions. Still, he believes that change in the council structure would be suitable for our community. Chavonne added: “Our community should celebrate that we have elected and continue to elect Black candidates to at-large seats.
While we celebrate that success and commit to it continuing, we need to take every step possible to ensure that our citizens are provided the most responsive and effective local government as possible.”
Does the narrative that African Americans cannot win at-large elections still hold true in Fayetteville and Cumberland County? And is there a continued need for racially gerrymandered districts to ensure Black representation? Perhaps the community can support an argument for at-large or districts, but the courts will likely have to decide at the end of the day.
Still, recent elections in Fayetteville and Cumberland County might suggest we are further along the road to political and racial equality than some might want to admit. For instance, in 2018, Cumberland County Sheriff Ennis Wright, Cumberland County Clerk of Superior Court Lisa Scales, and Cumberland County Commissioner Charles Evans were all elected at-large. Evans, the present chairman of the board, was elected for a third, four-year term.
Former Fayetteville Mayor Marshall Pitts, an African American, was a two-term mayor in the early 2000s. Pitts also served at large as a councilmember.
Current Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin, another African American, is presently in his second term.
Additionally, local African-American candidates have also enjoyed success gaining judgeships on the superior and district courts.
Many African Americans view political representation as a catalyst for increased racial equality. Black politicians are some of the most esteemed members of the African-American community.
When I was a youngster in the late 1960s, Fayetteville’s first Black mayor pro tem, Attorney Marion George, was a guest speaker at a youth convention I attended. I was 14 years old, and he was the first elected Black official I had ever met. For me, it was a remarkable experience.
George was a trailblazer and an incredible statesman.
According to the Veterans Administration’s central office in Washington, D.C., he was the first veteran to have earned three degrees (B.S., M.S., and Ph.D.) under the Veterans’ Provision Rehabilitation Bill. George was a World War II U.S. Army combat soldier in Italy. George and some other Blacks in Fayetteville formed a political organization called the Fayetteville Poor People’s Association. One of the group’s objectives was to get Blacks elected to the Fayetteville City Council, then an all-at-large elected council.
Current two-term Council member Tisha Waddell, who recently revealed she would not seek re-election for her district seat, said: “The idea of changing the council’s composition is interesting. And such a change would require at-large candidates to gain support and work; to meet the needs of a wider base.”
Waddell said she is not opposed to the idea. She is the only politically unaffiliated member of the council. Troy Williams is a member of The Fayetteville Observer Community Advisory Board. He is a legal analyst and criminal defense investigator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.