Race is a big factor in the July 31 Macon-Bibb County consolidation vote, despite a proposed countywide map that leaves a majority of the consolidated-government districts with voting-age populations that are at least 61 percent black.
Blacks should comprise a majority of voters who turn out for those elections, making them fairly safe for black candidates, said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor.
Bullock said resistance to consolidation may come from politicians who fear losing their seats. Bibb County likely will continue to be represented by a thin black majority, he said.
Macon City Council has such a majority now, with eight of 15 council seats held by blacks. The Bibb County Commission also has a thin black majority, with three of five seats held by blacks.
The consolidation map approved by the state Legislature features five of the nine consolidated commission seats having a black majority of potential voters, with black voting-age populations of between 61 and 69 percent. The mayor would be elected by the entire county, which is itself majority black. The latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates show Bibb County is 52.5 percent black.
What it will mean is you go from 11 African-Americans holding elected office down to five, and thats the concern, Bullock said. He said current officeholders realize there wont be seats on a consolidated commission board for all of them.
Four of the nine consolidated commission districts are predicted to have white voting-age populations of between 62 and 71 percent. Whites are now in two of the commission seats, seven of the City Council seats and the mayors office.
A proposed consolidation map was passed by the Georgia Legislature and signed by the governor, though legislators could tinker with the map after voters go to the polls. Maps must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, which has not yet signed off on it, County Attorney Virgil Adams said.
A Telegraph analysis of the consolidation map and 2010 gubernatorial voting patterns suggest the five majority-black districts all would have had at least 67 percent of votes cast for the Democrat in that race, Roy Barnes. In other words, the majority of commission districts in a consolidated government would be more than three-fifths black and two-thirds Democratic.
The remaining four districts would all have whites as at least 62 percent of the voting-age population and at least lean Republican. But Republican Nathan Deal would have secured votes from about 51 percent in one of those districts and 54 percent in another in the 2010 gubernatorial elections.
Naomi Robertson, an associate professor of political science at Macon State College, said a smaller number of representatives in a government could work better. When she moved to Macon, she was surprised to find 15 council members in a city Macons size, which she said may contribute to animosity.
Perhaps a smaller Macon-Bibb commission may work to the advantage of the city and county. I could see some good things about it, and some things not so great about it, Robertson said.
Macon Councilman Henry Gibson said he opposes consolidation for a number of reasons, including worries that a reduction in the number of representatives would reduce representation for some groups of people.
Not only blacks, but lots of other poor citizens. Theyre going to lose their voice. Thats definitely going to happen. Those people are saying that its not, but they are. ... Its a very diverse group of races and people from Macon on council now, said Gibson, who is black.
Some people dispute that a consolidated government could be majority black, however.
Councilwoman Elaine Lucas said the consolidation plan would dilute the voting strength of blacks and others.
The way the lines are drawn, the Republicans would hold an advantage, and they are anti-black, anti-women and anti-Democrat, said Lucas, who is black.
She said some of the loss of representation comes from reducing the number of representatives from 21 to 10.
When you reduce, you of course get rid of some of your Democratic officials. Its about party, then its about policy and its about a dilution of black voting strength.
Lucas refused to say how Republicans would have a majority.
Friday, the Macon-Bibb County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for Bibb Countys legislators and other politicians to support the form of Macon government launched in the civil rights era. The organization said the only fair form of government for Macon is a strong mayor with a 15-member legislative council.
A Telegraph survey of Macon City Council members and Bibb County commissioners found a strong racial divide on consolidation.
Among those elected officials who made their stance clear, consolidation was supported by seven white people and a single black person, Commission Chairman Sam Hart. It is opposed by seven black people and a single white person, Councilman Tom Ellington. Other politicians were undecided or couldnt be reached for comment. Since then, Councilwoman Beverly Olson, who is white, said she supports consolidation.
Hart downplayed questions about racial voting patterns.
First, lets get the best people running and lets encourage our community to vote, he said.
Councilman Larry Schlesinger, a white supporter of consolidation, also said race shouldnt play much of a role.
I can understand that concern, he said. However, both Macon and Bibb County have African-American majorities. Sam Hart during the last county election demonstrated that an African-American can run countywide and be elected. I dont see that as an impediment to moving forward on consolidation.
Robertson, the Macon State College instructor, said voters around Bibb County seem to weigh candidates partially but not entirely on race. She pointed to Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, who eked out a narrow victory in his re-election campaign against a black candidate in a black-majority city, and Hart, who got much white support from outside the city limits.
A lot of it has to do with the candidate also and what job that person will do, and whether he has rapport with the voters, Robertson said.
Bullock said voters nationwide arent color blind, though the pattern of voting has changed.
What you generally see these days is that whites are generally more likely to vote for a black candidate than blacks are willing to vote for a white candidate, Bullock said. It used to be the other way around.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.