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White flight drives mayoral results


In a column called "Charlotte's last white mayor," Glenn H. Burkins, editor of the local news Web site, pointed out the obvious last week.

"Outgoing Mayor Pat McCrory may well be Charlotte's last 'white' leader," Burkins wrote, after studying election results.

That hits some people funny. When I made the same argument last week, I was called a racist by some callers to my radio show. Burkins, who explained that this was the new reality because Charlotte is "darker," probably won't be called a racist because he is black, even though we were saying the same thing.

This is due to a demographic reality that Charlotte's white elites have dragged their feet for years about examining too closely. They are no longer in charge to the extent they once were and will see their power erode even further in the coming years.

The story they and those at The Charlotte Observer initially spun last week went something like this. White voters elected Charlotte's new black, Democratic mayor in a rejection of Republican Party and tea party politics.

First of all, voters here didn't reject the GOP. Republicans have increasingly rejected Charlotte over the last decade by choosing to live just outside the county in resoundingly red areas in a classic white-flight pattern that's been endlessly documented in this space. Parents have figured out that they can get better schools and a smaller tax bill in surrounding counties. And more of them are registered Republicans than not.

There are now twice as many registered Democrats (50 percent) in the city as there are Republicans (26 percent). And there are now 42,770 more black voters registered here than there are Republican voters.

Since 70 percent of Democratic voters are black and African-American voters vote Democrat more than 95 percent of the time, the result is inevitable. Only Jesus Christ himself would be able to pull off a citywide win on the GOP ticket in a two-way race going forward. Republican candidate John Lassiter did a phenomenal job considering the makeup of the voter rolls. But he was running in what is now a one-party city.

Last week, Charlotte elected a new mayor who is both a Democrat and African-American, as most of our mayors will be in the future. As I've been predicting since 2005, this change was inevitable because of a massive influx of African-Americans here.

Obama's voter registration efforts added an impressive 34,000 new black voters to Mecklenburg rolls in 2008. Between January 2000 and January 2008, before the Obama voter registration effort began, an additional 77,421 African-American voters registered to vote in Mecklenburg County. During the same period, only 54,970 additional white voters registered.

More of the people who have moved to Charlotte in recent years appear to be non-white than white. (We won't know for certain until the new census figures roll in.) The signs can also be seen in county schools, where the number of white students has remained essentially the same for the last six years while minority enrollment numbers boomed. The percentage of white students in the system plummeted from nearly 60 percent 12 years ago to about 34 percent now. This occurred despite a massive movement of newcomers here that has ranked us in the top 10 nationally for relocations.

The Brookings Institute a few years ago dubbed this phenomenon "The New Great Migration," and described it as a massive return of millions of African-Americans to the South. Brookings named Charlotte the No. 3 destination in the nation.

On Saturday, the Observer, which largely refuses to tell the full white-flight story, finally did come around to printing another surprising statistic. When current mayor Pat McCrory ran in 1995, 73 percent of voters were white. Fifteen years later, 57 percent are. That's still a majority -- for now. But the key number is 70 percent.

As in, some 70 percent of registered Democrats in Charlotte are now black, which means that white Democrats will find themselves increasingly edged out in city and countywide primaries when African-American candidates run against them. White Democratic candidates a decade from now will occupy the political margins black candidates once did if the current demographic trends continue.

Charlotte politics used to be dominated by moderate white voters who divided their ballots between Democrats and moderate Republicans and picked the winners of citywide primaries. Now the Democratic Party will pick who wins general elections citywide and in most districts, and black voters will pick who wins Democratic primaries.

That means that the balance of power has shifted from the halls of the City Club to the endorsement committee of the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. (The caucus puts together the religiously followed voter guides that make or break Democratic candidates in local races.)

Incoming Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is the first product of this system. So is the new city council, which has five black members out of 11, a new record, and eight Democrat members out of 11, also a record.

And since minority voter registration has been climbing about a percentage point a year for the past decade, expect a majority minority voting roll within a decade.

That ought to really shake things up at the City Club.

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