By Maynard Eaton
“Black ministers still talk to more people on Sunday morning than the average candidate can reach and their influence is incredible,” – Derrick Boazman, WAOK Talk Show Host
It may be the most significant, meaningful and consequential endorsement to emerge during this current Atlanta mayoral campaign. For four decades or more, an endorsement by Atlanta’s black clergy was coveted by candidates because it was often a prized pathway to victory.
Their collective clout may have waned somewhat; never-the-less the recent rousing endorsement by Atlanta’s cadre of black faith leaders for Senator Vincent Fort could resonate enough to catapult him into the anticipated mayoral runoff.
“It was not a very difficult decision for me to make; he is my friend and brother,” says Rev. Timothy McDonald, the influential and politically savvy pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church. “You can judge a man not by what he says, but by what he does. Senator Fort has a record, and it is a record that is diverse and inclusive.
“The Black church has always played a vital role in Atlanta’s electoral process. “The Black church has been a key element,” Rev. McDonald opines about his 40 years of intense involvement in the local political arena. “I can go back to Maynard Jackson’s mayoral race, I can go back to Andy Young’s, to Shirley Franklin’s, to Bill Campbell’s, to any of them. Where the black voters gather is the Black church.”
Rev. McDonald continues during a recent news conference at the historic Paschal’s restaurant, “I support Vincent Fort because he’s a person of integrity. He’s a person of honesty. I believe that Senator Fort comes at a time when people want something different. Senator Fort brings that new way and that new vision. It may alienate some people, but some people need to be alienated because, so many have been left out and left behind too long. Senator Fort will bring everybody an opportunity. I think he will be great for the city of Atlanta.”
That sentiment was enthusiastically echoed by other members of Atlanta’s Progressive Clergy of Greater Atlanta. “Vincent Fort is the epitome to me of that kind of individual who will not be bought out, he will not sell out, and he will continue to stand up for the people like he always has for all the years I’ve known him,” says Rev. Greg Fann of Liberty International Church. “He’s never been afraid to take on a civil rights fight or a political challenge to stand up for the rights of people.”
“I’ve known Vincent Fort for 34 years, he has been a consistent, solid, and prophetic leader for the city of Atlanta,” says Rev. Gregory Eason, pastor of Flipper Temple AME. “I believe that he will be the mayor, not of some of Atlanta, but for all of us. Over the years, he has been a champion for the poor, the middle class and the least of these.”
Reportedly, some 56 ministers, operating as an ad hoc political organization called Progressive Clergy for Atlanta, have voted to support Fort for mayor of Atlanta from amongst this current crop of competitive candidates in what has proved to be a crowded field of capable contenders.
“After 53 ballots cast at our last meeting, most of those votes went for Senator Fort,” reports Rev. McDonald. “We interviewed all the candidates. We had them in a forum. We educated ourselves on the issues and then we voted. It was no blind kind of vote. We knew who, what, when, where, and how on who we were voting for, and majority of those votes cast were for Vincent Fort.”
Arguably this mayoral campaign is a race for the soul of Atlanta, and maintaining its legendary record of electing Black mayors. Will Fort be the next?
“It surprised a lot of people that this respected group of ministers are supporting me,” says Fort. “I have the support of four former presidents of the Concerned Black Clergy. I think it’s positive that over these years that our work is being appreciated by church, civic and community leaders.”
Fort continues, “We can do a better job of representing everybody in this city. There is an arc of neglect in this city. We have had a City Hall that has neglected certain neighborhoods. We want a City Hall that represents everybody. We cannot tolerate a situation where Atlanta is number one in income inequality and income immobility. We cannot accept a city where a child born in Grady Hospital has the least chance of anywhere in this country of moving into the middle class.”
While Fort’s enviable record of political activism is widely applauded by the likes of former Georgia governor Roy Barnes, and rapper/entrepreneur/activist “Killer Mike” and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, he has not sold all of Atlanta’s black preachers on the efficacy of his candidacy. Take Dr. Joseph Williams, senior pastor of Salem Bible Church, for example. He says Sen. Fort is too liberal for his political tastes.
“One can argue that the front runners of the race are well qualified to become Atlanta’s next mayor. Georgia state Senator Vincent Fort is not an exception to that rule,” Dr. Williams readily admits. “It is not a surprise that, so many faith leaders have come out to support Mr. Fort. He has stood for those without a voice, as well as shown compassion for the poor. That resonates with many in the faith community and for that reason I can understand their support. Personally, Mr. Fort has been too liberal for my political desires.”
Derrick Boazman, a popular Atlanta radio talk show host, activist and former Atlanta City Councilman agrees, but also disagrees with Rev. Williams’ assessment of Fort’s mayoral candidacy.
“Black ministers still talk to more people on Sunday morning than the average candidate can reach, and their influence is incredible,” Boazman says following the endorsement news conference. “In this room, you have some of the biggest churches in this city, opinion leaders and folks who head religious organizations. The key thing is what I’m hearing in the community; when you stack up the track record does Atlanta need another professional politician or does it need somebody who cares about the people with a demonstrated track record for looking out for the least, the lost, and the left out? Vincent Fort has done that hands down. Somebody has to challenge what is happening in this town and he’s the last best hope for Atlanta.”
Atlanta’s crop of City Council candidates running for the mayor’s job, have been sullied and suspect because of an ongoing City Hall “pay to play” scandal. Fort is seen as an unscathed and trusted breath of fresh air and new day for Atlanta politics, if he’s elected.
“Vincent is a champion of our political revolution – a stalwart progressive who has spent his entire career standing up for civil rights, for working people and for those in need,” says former Democrat presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. “Time after time he has taken on corporate greed and corruption. Sending Vincent Fort into a runoff in Atlanta would send an unmistakable message that the values that power our political revolution are on the move. This election is critical to our movement.”
Attorney Robert Patillo, an Atlanta-based nationally respected political pundit, writes in his Friday CBS News commentary that Fort is a change agent, but will he have the juice for joy on election day?
“Vincent is supported by everyone from Sen. Bernie Sanders to Rapper Killer Mike and has been a tireless crusader for the rights of the people over those [aligned with] corporate interests. He is immensely popular among young voters and progressives, but trails among the electorate which actually vote in municipal elections. In what will be a low turnout election, Fort will find it difficult to win if his hippy liberals who show up at rallies don’t turn out on election day.”