Race Takes Center Stage In NYC Mayoral Campaign After Rev. Calvin Butts Endorses Democrat Bill Thompson

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After endorsing Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent Michael Bloomberg in a previous mayoral campaign, the Rev. Calvin Butts, pastor of the famed Harlem-based Abyssinian Baptist Church, last Friday announced his support for Democrat Bill Thompson in the race to succeed Bloomberg. But the reasons he gave for the endorsement are raising eyebrows. According to Politicker, during a press conference Butts said the following: "What do I say to African Americans? I say, 'Yes, I stand with Bill Thompson' because I think he is the enlightened African American who can provide great leadership for this city."

He added, "The city needs the right African American. It's one thing to re-enact the March at Washington, but we need progress more than we need protest. We need jobs, we need housing, we need education, and I think Bill Thompson is the man to represent us."

Though Butts made it clear that race was not the only reason he endorsed Thompson, the mere mention of Thompson's race will be enough to spark controversy. The race to become New York's next mayor has become increasingly racially contentious. According to polls, New York Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is white, recently went from third place to front-runner. His lead has increased so dramatically he is now within four points of avoiding a runoff. (If no candidate secures 40 percent in the Sept. 10 primary, the two top vote-getters move on to a runoff.) The timing of his incredible comeback is noteworthy. It comes on the heels of his nationally praised ad featuring his teenage son, Dante, who is biracial (de Blasio's wife Chirlane McCray is black), saying his father would be the toughest candidate on stop and frisk. Days after the commercial appeared, a federal judge found the NYPD's enforcement of stop and frisk, which disproportionately targeted people of color, unconstitutional.

Overnight, stop and frisk became the defining issue of the race, and not just with voters of color. As such, stop and frisk and race in general have increasingly been topics of discussion in recent debates and campaign ads. In the recent Republican primary debate, grocery-store magnate John Catsimatidis said that if his son were stopped, he would ask the boy what he had been doing or wearing, a response sure to haunt him should he face Thompson or de Blasio in a general election. But it is the fight over the racial implications of stop and frisk between Thompson and de Blasio that has surprisingly upended the race.

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SOURCE: The Root
Keli Goff
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