Black Political Incorporation under Neoliberalism: The Routinization of Interracial Urban Regimes
After more than fifty years of black urban governance, black politicians and managers have successfully navigated a contradictory terrain to maintain power and accrue benefits for themselves and their class. Of course, their own personal and political success has nothing to do with how well they have served their constituents. Otherwise working-class residents would have a chance at gaining quality public schools, affordable housing, living wage jobs, adequate health care, beautiful parks, and reliable public transportation systems. Success has everything to do with the staying power of African American professionals and managers in the positions of mayor, city councilors, housing authority directors, budget and planning directors, and school superintendents. Their longevity speaks to the postwar expansion and continuity of the black professional and managerial class delivering a seemingly unending supply of pedigreed candidates for municipal office.1 More than any other reason, their sustained run is a testament to the role this class continues to play in urban governance. They have continued to promote a developmental agenda for downtown expansion and investment, diverting public capital away from addressing deteriorating housing and infrastructure, dwindling job prospects, chronically under-resource public schools, and the violent character of making ends meet in the informal economy. This central dynamic was first identified by political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. in his seminal essay, “The Black Urban Regimes: Structural Origins and Constraints.”2 If anything, the fiscal, demographic, and ideological constraints identified by Reed have gotten worse with the advent of privatization, draining municipal budgets and fueling a dramatic expansion of the nonprofit organizations. The nonprofit sector became a fertile source of black candidates for public office, seasoned by corporate foundations, civic planning associations, and community development corporations, auditioning for roles in public-private partnerships that dominate urban politics.
The recent historiography of neoliberalism reveals evidence of its imprint in the early public-private partnerships that fueled urban renewal in rustbelt cities in the Northeast and Midwest after World War II.3 Scholars have further demonstrated that neoliberalization at the local level occurred in cities simultaneously with global and national restructuring markets and governments in the 1970s and 1980s.4 In the course of finding political-economic continuity in U.S. cities, some of these scholars have built on Reed’s insights by noting the role of black political incorporation in urban neoliberalization. These contributions notwithstanding, the remarkable continuity of African Americans in urban regimes and the implications for racial inclusion have otherwise gone under the radar.5 In the 1950s and 60s, black professionals in civic agencies and community-based organizations aligned with banking, retail, and real estate elites to mobilize federal urban renewal dollars and sweep away anachronistic “machine” or segregative regimes in order to revitalize and expand central business districts. In exchange for their support, black professionals received high status public employment and the opportunity to build relationships with white business and civic leaders. Having cut their teeth in nonprofit, community-based trenches, the black professionals then successfully negotiated a shifting political environment of the 1970s and 80s that featured federal devolution and privatization and got elected as mayors and direct municipal bureaucracies. In short, they were able to do this not only by utilizing an expansive nonprofit sector which provided political opportunities to move into political office but also by using this sector to provide political, social, and ideological coherence to interracial urban regimes.6
This essay will trace the political development of black urban professionals and managers from the urban renewal era to the early period of federal devolution and privatization in the 1970s and 80s. These periods are the foundation by which “generations” of black urban regimes have been generated.7 The staying power of black political entrepreneurs results from their capacity for populating, activating, and contracting black-led organizations in the nonprofit sector, which has allowed them to adjust to fiscal retrenchment and subsequent privatization. Black mayors have channeled demands for investment in public goods into contracts for black-led nonprofits and bootstrap social programs. In particular, the housing and community development field has allowed black political aspirants to cement ties to the real estate industry, which plays an outsized role in postindustrial urban economies.8 Durable black participation in urban regimes, the expansion of the nonprofit sector to create new political opportunities, the dominance of the downtown development agenda, and absence of effective opposition to that agenda has led to the routinization of interracial urban regimes in cities like Philadelphia and New Orleans.9 The latter city after the man-made Katrina disaster has been on the forefront of urban neoliberalization in the United States. The routinization of interracial regimes has built on decades of biracial public-private partnerships. A key feature of urban neoliberalization is black inclusion in those partnerships.
There hasn’t been much scholarly or popular attention to this routinization for two reasons. First, the charge “that nothing has changed” since Jim Crow made in some academic circles has minimized, among other things, the ways African American professionals have integrated the public sector and wielded public authority within the constraints that all urban regimes face.10 In other words, some people see black urban governance as largely inconsequential when they see the point is to register racial disparities rather than analyze the differential costs and benefits of racial inclusion. Second, capturing city hall has diminished in importance for ambitious and credentialed black professionals since an African American has occupied the White House, and many black aspirants are seeking to become governors and senators in the early twenty-first century. With this as a backdrop, black urban governance seems to hardly merit serious exploration from black politics specialists. In order to understand black participation in durable interracial regimes, we need to revisit the black ethnic politics paradigm, which represents the self-understanding of the black politicians and urban managers, and its limitations analyzing their decision-making. The Black Urban Regime thesis explains why that self-understanding cannot account for class conflict between black professional-managers and working-class blacks that has become uncontested in urban governance.
Black City Limits
In the late 1980s and 90s, scholars attempted to make sense of black urban governance, after a number of African Americans became mayors in the late 1960s and 70s. Was capturing city hall worth it for African Americans? Did they make socioeconomic gains as a racial group? Did black professionals benefit more than working-class blacks whose votes were largely responsible for African Americans being elected mayor in the first place? Lastly, will black mayors be able to implement their agenda, assuming opposition and antagonism to white business leaders? Adolph Reed and political scientist Clarence Stone argued that black middle-class professionals benefited the most from black urban regimes, and these regimes, like all others, had to come to terms with business interests. It was black public officials’ embrace of a business agenda that made addressing the social needs of working-class blacks nearly impossible (BUR).11 Political scientist Richard Keiser, who wrote on black political incorporation in the 1980s and 90s, defended the black political class, arguing their capturing city hall was an example of “racial group empowerment.” He took the position that while middle-class blacks did benefit more, working-class blacks also benefited significantly from black urban governance in terms of employment and improved services.12
The main strengths of Keiser’s work on black political incorporation rest in the constructivist approach to politics that he uses in his accounts of black electoral and governing coalitions in Chicago, Philadelphia, Gary, and Atlanta. Keiser calls attention to the factions within racial groups and political parties in urban politics and argues that a savvy black politician can exploit those factional divisions by leveraging black votes in order to get appointed or elected to public office.13 In particular, he shows how black political entrepreneurs in Atlanta and Philadelphia were able to manipulate divisions between different party factions—white and black—to gain office. Basically, the black political entrepreneurs leveraged their control of black votes in order to attract the attention of rival white politicians. According to Keiser, there are two preconditions for “strong” black political incorporation: “competitive elections,” where one white political faction needs black votes in order to defeat a competing white faction for elected office; and the ability to get blacks to vote “correctly” and as a bloc, so that their support can be delivered as a package to their political suitors.
Black factions had divisions and dynamics similar to the standard white factions of “machine” and “reform” groups. Keiser appears to reject the hegemony of the civil rights agenda when assessing black machine politics. In his Philadelphia and Chicago case studies, he implies that black machine and reform factions represented different black classes. Black machine factions delivered entry-level jobs to their working-class constituents, while the rival black reform faction push for civil rights policies and civil service reforms that opened up high-level positions for their middle-class constituents. Nevertheless, many black machine politicians were middle-class, and the job and income benefits delivered to their poorer constituents were not meant to help them climb the class ladder so much as survive an exploitative and discriminatory private labor market. For that reason, working-class black voters would support black machine politicians, especially if black reform candidates did not have a real possibility of being elected, which was the case in Chicago during Richard J. Daley’s reign into the 1970s (SOE 23–64).
Keiser’s instrumental account normalizes black machine politicians for seeking power and delivering limited benefits to its working-class constituents rather than seeing them as “sell outs” for not advancing civil rights-defined group interests.14 At the end, Keiser thinks the civil rights vision of the black reform faction rather than black machine politicians pursuing “particularistic” benefits for party professionals and loyal constituents was more likely to achieve “black empowerment.” This is not surprising, since Keiser defines “black empowerment” by the acquisition of high-level policy-making jobs in urban bureaucracies rather than menial low-wage jobs, no matter how plentiful.15 He surmised that reform coalitions directed their municipal bureaucracies to correct racial disparities in public employment and service delivery. Though Keiser rejects the ontological overtones that canonizes black reform leadership in many scholarly accounts, he nevertheless ends up endorsing the idea of a racial group approach, which is how the black reform faction asserts its political value.
According to Keiser, the “biracial coalition” that advanced black empowerment in the 1970s and 80s was one comprised of affluent white liberals, business officials, and, of course, black politicians who leveraged black votes (BCP). Black political professionals preferred to partner with liberal whites and business leaders because they offered them opportunities beyond low-level patronage jobs. As far as they were concerned, “white ethnic” regimes, like those headed by Richard J. Daley in Chicago and Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia, seemed determined to stymie or reverse civil rights policies and deliver, at best, modest gains in employment, housing, and service delivery.16 Affluent white liberals and pragmatic business leaders anticipating impending majority black rule on the horizon and a constant threat of civil violence saw the need for moderate black leadership to ensure social peace in the 1960s.17 For ideological and pragmatic reasons, white civic leaders wanted to see black professionals find commensurate employment in and out of government and the worst of urban poverty to be ameliorated, but not at the expense of a postindustrial growth economy. In fact, they shared a commitment to a postindustrial vision of the city with business interests.18 The biracial coalition, according to Keiser, developed incrementally through getting preferred candidates elected but also working on civic projects that “formalized and institutionalized biracial consultation and power-sharing among the city’s economic leadership” when the regime was not in office (SOE 143).19 In other words, the struggle for black elected officials was not about the developmental agenda as a whole but increasing their share of the spoils—e.g., high level political appointments, government contracts, and pet development projects—within the governing coalition.20 As far as Keiser is concerned, this is the struggle for “black empowerment.” The development agenda itself is a given.21
Keiser’s interpretation is at odds with the Black Urban Regime thesis, which argued that not only did the “spoils” fail to reach poor black constituents but also that the shared commitment to pro-growth contributed to the displacement, exorbitant rents, low-wage jobs, crumbling parks, and default conscription to a violent informal economy. As public officials and civic leaders, African Americans dutifully managed the contradiction between social needs of their working-class constituents and the economic interests of the biracial coalition. Keiser responds that Reed and others are wrong to contend that working-class blacks have not substantially benefited from the biracial coalition. He argues that political scientists Adolph Reed and Clarence Stone’s “theoretical findings”—i.e., that working-class blacks did not benefit from the biracial coalition—represent an “empirically incorrect distortion of reality” (SOE 151).22 Keiser clarifies his position thusly:
I do not debate the contention that the Black middle class has benefited more from the gains of Black political empowerment than lower-status Blacks. This pattern has obtained for every ethnic group that has struggled for power and wealth in capitalist America. Yet, as I have repeatedly demonstrated, lower-status Blacks have gained much from the biracial coalition that began back in the Hartsfield era. One of the most crucial benefits has been the incremental reduction in police brutality in Atlanta. (SOE 151)23
This passage reveals the core assumptions of Keiser’s model, which limits his ability to explain costs as well as the benefits of black decision-making. First, Keiser admits that middle-class blacks benefit the most from black urban governance. But he also argues that working-class and poor blacks do benefit from African Americans becoming mayors and city council members.24 Although he is sensitive to class differences among blacks, he assesses the effectiveness of black elected officials by an “empowerment” schema, which is measured on racial group terms.25 More importantly, the “disproportionate benefits that middle-class Blacks receive in the process of Black empowerment moves Blacks forward in the pluralist distributional queue, in the same way that White ethnic immigrants gained political and economic power” (SOE 162). In other words, African Americans are next in the pluralist line, and intergroup inequality is the ticket for political incorporation in a capitalist political economy.26
Second, there is no doubt that working-class blacks benefited more from Atlanta’s and Philadelphia’s biracial regime than from their respective previous segregative regimes.27 Keiser cites improved services in black working-class neighborhoods, the pattern of minority businesses hiring more black workers than comparable white businesses, and an incremental reduction in police brutality.28 All these benefits, according to Keiser, resulted from the fact that blacks obtained decision-making positions in the urban bureaucracy, which is where “the reallocation of power that defines Black empowerment takes place.” While there are some modest, if important gains in allocational patterns for working-class blacks when black bureaucrats are in charge, Keiser sets what can only be called the lowest of bars: the public employment targets are compared to either previous white supremacist regimes in the South or hostile “white ethnic” regimes in the rust belt. 29
Third, crucial to racial reallocation were affirmative action policies, which mandate “the disruption of previous, often deeply entrenched allocation patterns.” According to Keiser, this change represented “redistributive policy that could not happen without a political struggle being fought and won by and for Blacks and other subordinated groups” (SOE 151). Keiser notes white business opposition to Maynard Jackson’s affirmative action policies as evidence of the “political struggle”; however, he neglects to comment on the parts of business’s agenda which Jackson’s shares. And this is the main problem with Keiser’s analysis. He only analyzes part of black decision-making, that which occurs in the allocational policy arena. While it makes sense there is some improvement in allocational patterns when it comes to municipal services and employment under biracial regimes, and these improvements matter to those who receive them, decisions about land use that support downtown development are all regimes’ priority and are not subject to the same decision-making rules as allocational patterns (CL 41, 64–65).30 Unfortunately, these allocational gains represent a distant second to the biracial regimes’ need for land and public treasure to support their development agenda of rent intensification. While Keiser recognizes the impact of national and global restructuring on working-class blacks’ livelihoods, his argument overlooks how that restructuring bolstered local business constraints on urban policies.31 His schemas do not register the systemic power wielded by downtown large property owners, real estate developers, and financial corporations and say nothing of their central importance in municipal decision-making and the destructiveness of their policies on working-class livelihoods in postindustrial cities.32
While Keiser’s instrumental analysis has its merits, his embrace of an ethnic group politics model renders it incapable of accounting for biracial urban regimes’ decisions that contribute to poverty, unemployment, unaffordable housing, and poor schools. Keiser’s analysis mirrors Paul Peterson’s City Limits argument when it comes to black political incorporation. First, they both agree that the developmental policy arena is a given, decreasing the space for municipal decision-making to the distribution of public jobs and services. Second, just as Peterson thinks economic growth benefits everyone in the city, Keiser argues black municipal regimes benefit all blacks, at least to some extent (CL). Even though Keiser doesn’t assume a priori that most blacks benefit from blacks becoming mayors, city councilors, and urban bureaucrats, he does conclude that new allocational patterns lead to working-class blacks benefitting more from biracial coalitions than other regimes. In relative terms he is right, but in a larger sense he can only make this claim by ignoring the job and housing losses for black working-class citizens produced by biracial regimes’ developmental agenda.
Third, in a more insidious, even hegemonic, way, Keiser and Peterson agree with each other. By endorsing the “biracial coalition-incrementalist” model,33 Keiser, like Peterson, signals to black citizens that this is the best they can hope for from biracial municipal government.34 Keiser’s very goal of empowerment is made on racial group terms, which assume middle-class blacks as leaders, and sometimes as proxies, will advance blacks toward that goal. In another vein, Keiser’s work narrates a professional and managerial blacks’ “group making” political project when their class’s success represents racial group success even in the face of working class deprivation.35 As an example of this academic and political convergence, Mayor Moon Landrieu countered criticism of increased black unemployment in New Orleans by touting his administration record of producing black jobs “above the broom and shovel level,” which is a key metric of black empowerment in ethnic pluralist studies.36 His “comparative utility” model adopts the black political class’s goals as its assumptions. In an effort to expunge normative questions from his analytical model, his defeatist assumptions absolve black municipal leaders of political responsibility, which reinforces black precarity. Keiser’s “Black City Limits” argument, knowingly or not, endorses the black political class’s legitimacy as the broker, regardless of regime type, for the rest of the black population in the postindustrial political arena (SOE 7).
Black Political Incorporation and Urban Renewal
The formation of the black political class has been substantively aided by federal programs administered at the municipal level. Scholars have focused on anti-poverty initiatives such as Community Action Programs and Model Cities representing parallel bureaucracies that deliver municipal services to the black constituencies of the Democratic Party, who had been excluded from the pluralist distributional queue.37 Depending on local urban regimes, urban renewal, like the Great Society programs, was a pathway for black political incorporation. Urban renewal was not an antipoverty program, however, for liberal pro-growth regimes the federal program provided an early entrance to black participation in governing coalitions.38 As African Americans expanded their share of the electorate due to black in-migration and white suburbanization after WWII, liberal reform coalitions needed black votes to defeat regular Democratic Party organizations for the mayor’s office and city council seats. Once in power the reform faction and its civic allies pursued federal and state urban redevelopment funds to implement its vision for a reconstructed and expanding downtown that included upgraded neighborhoods. The need for black votes opened up the possibility for black professionals to begin to find high status positions within municipal government.
Philadelphia is a good example of early black incorporation into a liberal reform coalition. The reform coalition implemented civil service requirements for municipal employment, which substantially increased African Americans’ share. Under the Joseph Clark and Richardson Dilworth administrations, blacks saw their gains in the municipal workforce as secretaries, staff inspectors, police supervisors, and lawyers increase dramatically by the early 1960s (RRR 55–58).39 Under these liberal administrations, middle-class blacks translated their income from new public employment into buying homes within the city. In Philadelphia, black homeowners represented 44 percent of all black households in 1966 after constituting 29 percent ten years earlier, the largest increase in the nation (RWT 354).40 However, not everyone benefited from early racial inclusion. As early as 1967 some observers noticed that there was a growing “gap” between a small segment of upwardly mobile blacks and “the much larger bottom sector who seemed doomed to life in the ‘deferred clearance’ areas of the inner city, the old and new ‘Jungles’ of Philadelphia” (RWT 358).
Philadelphia’s reform coalition, including political entrepreneurs, civic housing and planning agencies, and downtown business interests organized by the Greater Philadelphia Movement (GPM), had a distinct approach to solving the problems of decline and inadequate housing (BNT 174–75). They rejected wholesale demolition, opting for more rehabilitation of substandard housing stock after an initial foray into slum clearance.41 The planners also favored rehabilitating inner-city homes for low-income citizens, rather than building high-rise public housing projects (RWT 358–59).42 Due to the “predominantly residential” requirement in the 1949 act, many cities sought to build housing for middle-income families (RRR 110). Liberal reform coalitions took advantage of urban renewal funding and rules to produce modest rental housing for their black middle-class constituents who previously had few options for finding adequate and affordable housing in the city.43 For instance, a racially integrated 88 unit private project, financed by Quakers and subsidized by Title I urban renewal funds, was built in Philadelphia, with the above-noted agenda in mind. However, this project, along with Penn Towne, “a privately managed, garden housing complex for middle-income housing project” in East Poplar, had a hard time attracting moderate-income black families since the development was near slums (PHRR 110).44 The building of middle-class projects occurred at the same time new housing opportunities opened up on the periphery of the ghetto in neighborhoods experiencing racial transition in the 1950s and 60s (PHRR 151). In addition, government-subsidized private housing for black middle class citizens faced financing problems. Even with federal subsidies it was difficult keeping the rents affordable for middle-income families. Philadelphia’s Redevelopment Authority also helped to finance low-cost housing in order to maintain low densities and not be forced to build high-rise projects in order to save costs with a larger scale. Nonetheless, rents were still out of reach for “the original slum tenants.” City officials abandoned plans for future interracial private projects when the results did not warrant continued public expenditure (RWT 334–35; PHRR 110–11).45
Urban renewal came late to New Orleans. A coalition of black activists, white businessmen, and civic progressives were finally able to overcome conservative opposition to urban renewal in 1969. The conservative opposition, representing small property owners, was able to pass state legislation forbidding the use of eminent domain to take and resell private parcels to private business interests (NOP 184–87). As a way to sidestep hostile state legislation backed by rural state legislators and small property conservatives, large cities in Louisiana passed local referenda to accept urban renewal funds. Mayor Victor Schiro coveted federal urban renewal funds in order to improve, among other things, the physical infrastructure in black neighborhoods to shore up part of his electoral base. The Community Improvement Agency, which directed urban renewal plans and funding for the city, offered the mayor “a cheap way to implement a vision of physical progress and racial amity” (NOP 189). Ironically enough, by coming late to New Orleans, urban renewal was able to avoid some of the serious missteps like mass displacement and faulty relocation efforts that characterized similar initiatives in other cities (NOP 195).
Urban renewal like Community Action Program and Model Cities became a federally-funded local vehicle in New Orleans to respond to service deficits in black neighborhoods, as well as a means to cultivate a black leadership. Historian Kent Germany captures the perspective of black leaders at the time: “Urban renewal represented the best available way to bring physical improvements to their neighborhoods and a fertile opportunity to establish their own positions as policy advocates. Some of those black leaders, like their white counterparts, also saw a chance to improve their own financial situation” (NOP 191). Black incorporation through urban renewal happened at the elite and neighborhood level. Ernest “Dutch” Morial, the first black state representative in Louisiana since Reconstruction and future first black mayor of New Orleans, was appointed to the seven-man board of the Community Improvement Agency. At the neighborhood level, the Southern Organization for Unified Leadership (SOUL), located in the Lower Ninth Ward, expanded their political influence through urban renewal (NOP 190–91).46 The urban renewal coalition experienced the most tension between white business leadership and black leaders of the Lower Ninth Ward, since the latter sought “community control.” Nonetheless, SOUL denounced public housing projects as detrimental to black people and advocated for increased homeownership, which was consistent with development goals (NOP 191). A referendum to approve $7 million for infrastructure and housing projects was passed with mass black support in 1969. In the process, minority contractors received a major portion of the work. These contracts “brought black jobs and black power into the Lower Ninth Ward [that] resulted in improved lighting, drainage, and housing” (NOP 194). Germany contends that local black leaders used urban renewal as a “chip” to broker concessions from local and federal officials. Urban renewal did not put a dent in a low-wage economy or “systemic inequality,” but careers were made for several politicians and “biracial accord” was broached. According to Germany, “the political model set in motion by Urban Renewal created new channels for black power” (NOP 194–95).
Spanning the decades of the 1950s and 60s, Philadelphia and New Orleans presented different historical and regional contexts for urban renewal and black political incorporation. Both cities avoided wholesale clearance and mass displacement in favor of spot rehabilitation in middle-class and working-class neighborhoods, which was in line with African American critics of urban renewal (NUR).47 Both cities also used urban renewal, its funding, and program structure to respond to severe racial deficits in municipal service delivery, infrastructural spending, and housing development. In Philadelphia, the liberal Democratic Party regime of Clark and Dilworth, in the context of postwar economic growth and the civil rights movement, helped the expansion of the black middle class in terms of income, employment, and home ownership. There were tentative attempts to use urban renewal to respond to the specific housing needs of this new black middle-class constituency, which eventually failed. In New Orleans, a decade later, urban renewal was lumped in with War on Poverty programs as mechanisms to deliver patronage, mollify black working-class neighborhoods, and hopefully avoid civil violence. While business interests generally opposed or remained indifferent to service-oriented CAP and Model Cities federal programs, they embraced urban renewal, which jumpstarted what was to become a durable agenda for downtown revitalization. Black participation in urban redevelopment coalitions not only put black neighborhood leaders into contact with real estate developers or ambitious corporate officials, but also, more importantly, the coalition immersed them with pro-growth ideology—downtown development was good for everyone in the city. In the run up to the heyday of black urban regimes in the 1970s and 80s, pro-growth coalitions used federal programs such as urban renewal, CAP, and Model Cities to incorporate black professionals through high-status citywide appointments while channeling black activists into a parallel service bureaucracy. In both cities, black participants in the pro-growth coalitions played pivotal roles in supporting urban renewal programs through referenda and by their symbolic presence given massive black displacement. Those black neighborhood leaders saw their political careers initiated by their participation in the budding interracial growth coalitions. Tracing the early career pathways of black political entrepreneurs will help us understand how their socialization in the postindustrial service economy led to their ideological convergence with their business allies. It helps to explain black decision-making in the developmental policy arena. These pathways will become more diversified in the 1970s and 80s devolved and privatized policy environment.
Black Political Incorporation, Nonprofit Sector, and Interracial Urban Regimes
Black urban regimes were always based on biracial coalitions. Black mayors and majority black city councils depended on a unified black vote along with affluent white liberals to win elections. Whether they received business support while running for office or not, they, like their white counterparts, had to take into account that sector’s interests when governing their city. Despite the city’s structural dependence on their resources, business groups were not always able to act collectively or, if unified, proactively. Business groups fragmented along industry lines—e.g., manufacturing, retail, banking, and real estate—and their access and influence on city hall can be minimized. “Machine” governments, whose electoral sustainability rested on patronage and contracts, tried to cover budget deficits by raising taxes on the business sector. To the extent that machine regimes also relied on “white ethnic” voters, they excluded or discriminated against African Americans for municipal jobs and services and construction and service contracts. If they needed black votes, the allocation of jobs and benefits was not commensurate with the electoral support they received. Depending on the region, “clientelist” or segregationist regimes that funneled their resources mainly to their small business and middle-class supporters had little incentive to redirect those resources to renovating the downtown district. Moreover, since these regimes did not depend on corporate interests and did not want to disrupt traditional channels of patronage, they kept business groups at arm’s length or, if not, displayed outright antagonism. So, ambitious African Americans at the time sought more of a say in allocational decisions aligned with citywide business organizations to oust these types of regimes. The black political class received a larger share of municipal jobs, services, and later contracts, and business groups got access and influence over the developmental decision-making, leading to massive investment in the downtown. This is the material basis that cemented the biracial coalition that has become a durable interracial urban regime.
The mutual political-economic benefits that hold together biracial regimes gives sustenance to shared pro-growth ideology. Initially, 1970s black political aspirants, seeking to occupy city hall, campaigned on implementing redistributive policies that would bring relief and upward mobility to their working-class and middle-class constituencies. They were thwarted, however, by fiscal constraints and the ideological notion that economic growth, which was to bring jobs and revenue, necessitated taking their policy cues from the corporate, banking, and real estate sectors. For the moderate black professionals who positioned themselves to take advantage of political opportunities generated by demographic change and social disorder, racial redistribution was the only redistribution they conceived and pursued. Moreover, since oppositional black activists uncritically accepted the same racial group assumptions and did not have a clear program of building a popular majority, they were not in a position to compete with the black moderates for votes and political authority.48 In other words, black professionals based their electoral legitimacy on improved municipal services in select black neighborhoods; increased black municipal employment including policymaking positions and minority set-aside contracts, which improved some black livelihoods; but did not make a dent in high levels of black unemployment and poverty in their respective cities. Substituting racial redistribution for economic redistribution was facilitated by public administrations, media, academics, and nonprofit and community groups, which viewed racism as the main or sole reason for urban injustice, defined racial progress in group terms, and downplayed class conflict as a reason for black working class precarity.49
Business interests in urban governance gained immensely from the black professional and managerial class defining equality solely on racial terms and providing political cover for developmental decisions that produced unemployment and poverty by blaming such conditions on the cultural pathologies of the working class (BNOS 104).50 Clearly, the chief role for black politicians and bureaucrats was and is to manage urban inequality. After the threat of civil violence has waned, the black political class is still needed to legitimize a downtown-centered development agenda and contain the social fallout from that agenda through punitive welfare and criminal justice policies.51 In fulfilling this role, the black political class are not traitors to their race nor are they powerless to make other choices. More, they have a stake in a development agenda that brings political and material benefits, including business support for their elections and governance, prestige from civic institutions, and jobs and contracts to their professional and middle-class supporters.
The fiscal environment most urban leaders found themselves in during the 1970s and 80s is well-known. The combination of demographic, political, and ideological factors had produced a zero-sum policy environment. Many cities experienced white middle-class flight and black working class in-migration coupled with overall declining population. The loss of federal funds which were applied to working-class neighborhoods bypassed by the regular allocational patterns that bias middle- and upper-class enclaves. Many of those neglected working-class neighborhoods were black and represented the electoral base for an insurgent black political class. Lastly, the amount of resources that went to a downtown-centered development agenda and not to affordable housing, modernized infrastructure, or quality public education for the majority of the population added enormous pressure on the city’s budget. Black politicians, managers, and professionals have been able to stay in power by adapting to a shifting fiscal and political environment shaped by devolution and privatization. They have utilized federal programs like the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and Urban Development Action Grants (UDAG) to resource nonprofit organizations that deliver patronage to their electoral base, especially their small business and property-owning supporters, as well as to groom new entrants into the black political class (RPIT 195–96).52
The nonprofit sector is replete with numerous heterogeneous organizations representing single issues or constituencies to large coordinating bodies overseeing the interests of business and professional groups.53 Business has used this sector to organize its interests and to cultivate ties to willing public officials. This field also includes corporate foundations, which have played an important role in marshalling resources to a development agenda, as well as ameliorating poverty in what they consider the best interest of their city (RPIT 183). Corporate foundations also have played strategic roles in channeling black activist opposition to business interests into black-led service or developmental-oriented activities with start-up resources for disinvested working-class neighborhoods.54 Similar to foundations are citizen planning organizations populated with professionals who believe the developmental agenda is best for the city and play a supplemental role in making sure it is achieved.
The nonprofit organizations closer to black working-class neighborhoods are community development corporations (CDCs), which focus on providing housing, infrastructure, and services. These organizations, which replaced grassroots community-based advocacy organizations, depended on government and nonprofit financing in order to build affordable housing and provide youth services. In this transition, the CDC became more formal, professional, credential, and less confrontational, knowing consensus and compromise were the ticket to accessing resources (RPIT 194; DNO 129). Rather than opposing the downtown development agenda, CDCs in the 1970s and 80s asked for a “fair share” of government funding for the affordable housing and job training. The nonprofit sector during the seeding of devolution and privatization policies in those transitional decades was crucial for the management of class and racial conflict which has contributed to the routinization of interracial regimes.
In the 1970s and 80s, the black political class successfully negotiated the “devolution” of federal funds in fast changing fiscal environment in their cities. The eventual withdrawal of those funds during the Reagan years would be more difficult. The Community Development Block Grant Act of 1974 gave state and local governments more authority over federal funding. In this respect, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program was meant to replace the more distant control characteristic of earlier urban renewal and Great Society anti-poverty programs. Regardless of the different distribution formula, the continual federal aid was used by cities in ways similar to the Great Society programs (CU). The continual infusion of federal money allowed cities like Cleveland to expand their government and budgets in the 1970s and delay the fiscal reckoning that would come later. Many cities continued to distribute the money to the same poor neighborhoods that received Community Action Program and Model Cities’ resources in the 1960s (RPIT 184).
In New Orleans, white and black liberal mayors used CDBG funds just as they did other federal aid—to maintain and even expand their patronage to “civil rights leaders” (BNOS 102). In fact, new patronage channels “professionalized” an emerging black political leadership by grooming them for strategic roles in interracial urban regimes. CDBG funds gave these mayors the ability to make appointments, award contracts, and make physical improvements in selective poor neighborhoods. Since CDBG program only funded physical developments, black neighborhood leaders aligned with an interracial regime were able deliver paved streets, new playgrounds, and recreational centers to their constituencies (BNOS 105). While these improvements were undoubtedly welcomed in those neighborhoods, without a comprehensive plan and requisite resources the new facilities largely represented “symbolic development” (BNOS 102). Moreover, the emphasis on physical development instead of redistribution added to the sense “that speculative growth was intrinsic to fighting economic ills” (BNOS 105). Historian Megan French-Marcelin points out that the rhetoric around “neighborhoods projects” as discrete and separate from a developmental agenda gave growth projects a technocratic, non-political gloss. Designating downtown development as just another “neighborhood project” gave it an “appeal and legitimacy” that hid its socially regressive impact on the rest of the city (BNOS 105–06).
What French-Marcelin observed in New Orleans under the interracial urban regimes of Moon Landrieu and Dutch Morial in the 1970s and 80s found a textbook example in Wilson Goode’s political career in Philadelphia. Goode spans the period from Great Society liberalism to New Democrat neoliberalism. From 1967 to 1978, Goode was executive director of the Philadelphia Council for Community Advancement (PCCA), which was created by the business community in the 1950s to distribute funds from the Ford Foundation and the federal and city governments (BNT 188–89).55 Described as a “community activist,” Goode was on the technical and funding side of community development, which is the side most influenced by business practices (BNT 189). The composition and agenda of the PCCA during the Great Society and New Federalism in the 1970s indicates how early and deep business interests penetrated the nonprofit community development sector. Directing PCCA was pivotal since it provided Goode a platform to establish rapport with black neighborhood leaders and the emergent business leadership in the city, two of the major components of the coalition he built to become mayor in 1984. Given the close ties with business Goode developed throughout his career, including seeking their advice on who to hire in policymaking positions, his pro-business policies were not surprising and his approach became a template for other black politicians with similar aspirations (BNT 190). As mayor, Goode advocated for the waterfront project at Penn’s Landing and a Convention Center on Market Street, which were priorities on business’s agenda.56 Goode attempted to balance downtown growth with attention to previously neglected neighborhoods. During his stint as city-manager (1980-1983) and later as mayor (1984-1992), Goode improved municipal services and rehabilitated housing in black working-class neighborhoods in North Philadelphia.57 While black neighborhood leaders claimed a greater share of the allocational pie, they did not have enough influence over Goode’s administration to block downtown development projects like the convention center. As one observer notes, it didn’t seem to matter how well organized or angry community groups were, they were unable to derail the development agenda (PNDC 106). In addition to using the nonprofit sector to distribute public monies to black constituencies to cement political loyalty, this sector also “professionalized” emerging black political aspirants by nurturing their executive and organizational skills as well as providing a platform where they are able to build their own electoral and governing coalitions.
Sociologist Michael McQuarrie reveals another dimension, in which the decentralization of urban aid bolstered a pro-growth consensus. The shift in political authority, fueled by devolution, validated the idea that a community has the right to make developmental decisions about their area, in this respect echoing cries for community control from the 1960s. This idea was reinforced by the “explosion in the population of community development corporations, the rapid growth in policy tools and funding, and the devolution of governance functions onto non-profit community-based organizations” (RPIT 188). In the 1970s, the decentralization of federal aid in CDBG institutionalized African Americans’ access to municipal government (CU). However, the drying up of federal aid and Cleveland’s near bankruptcy ushered in a consensus around the need for business-led economic development in order to enter the arena of urban competition. More importantly, the “organization of governance” shift to the community level elevated the nonprofit sector when the resources available to municipal government declined. McQuarrie states, “the absence of centralized authority over policy formation and implementation meant that this new model technocracy was ‘hyper-relational,’ networked, civic, and consensus” (RPIT 193). Policy effectiveness was measured by increased real estate values that were expected to accompany physical redevelopment. This measurement is widely shared by philanthropies, municipal government, and community-based organization. McQuarrie points to a deeper reliance on the nonprofit sector with the withdrawal of federal funds in the 1980s and utilizing that sector to routinize interracial urban regimes in a privatized policy environment.
McQuarrie argues that urban competitiveness as the new policy paradigm was not incompatible with racial inclusion (RPIT 194). He points out that blacks are included as leaders of community-based organizations (CBOs) in black neighborhoods and representatives of black wards on the city council in Cleveland. He goes as far as to say that black inclusion is encouraged because developers and funders are currently encouraged to tap “native knowledge” and utilize community assets (RPIT 194). However, the price of their inclusion was to support the paradigm and claw back some resources to serve constituents or oppose it and get shut out (RPIT 194). McQuarrie implies that “community-level governance,” which black neighborhood leaders regarded as “black power,” also enfranchised powerful business and civic led nonprofits to direct a downtown-centered agenda, eroding the political space for those same CBOs.58 Given the material inducements and limited options, it was reasonable for CBOs, the bottom of the nonprofit food chain, to not only join the pro-growth consensus but to rationalize their alignment as “black autonomy” from the local state. McQuarrie notes that the point is not whether the new policy paradigm serves black working-class neighborhoods well, “it is now a common style and approach to politics in black neighborhoods and cities, though it is probably a politics of African American affluence” (RPIT 195).59 French-Marcelin goes a step further by arguing that “a rationalization of pro-growth strategies was necessarily rooted in tying uneven economic development to the expansion of black (middle-class) opportunity” (BNOS 101). Both McQuarrie and French-Marcelin echo Reed’s insights that racial inclusion was not only consistent with a developmental agenda but a major factor of its success in a racialized political environment. Moreover, their conclusions show that contributing to and then managing black uneven development is a constituent feature of interracial urban regimes. The underlying class basis of such regimes cannot be accounted for in Keiser’s racial empowerment model.
As McQuarrie, French-Marcelin, and others show, black political incorporation into interracial urban regimes has continued apace in the post-civil rights era. Black political participation in interracial regimes has become a durable feature of urban governance. When it comes to rewarding black and white middle class constituencies and paying fealty to downtown business interests, black and white mayors are the same. They are interchangeable.60 Both are junior partners in their alliance with real estate and corporate businesses in urban governance. As liberal regimes they distribute some aid to their working-class constituents, but living wage employment, affordable housing, and improved services are not priorities of these regimes. Part of the staying power of the black political class is the continued need to manage the fallout from privatization like shutting down public schools in favor of charter schools or from neglected infrastructure that has affected access to healthy drinking water. As the public sector shrunk, aspiring black officeholders used their access to community-based organizations and other non-profit organizations to create ties with professional and business organizations who are in position to fund a future campaign or lend pro-growth legitimacy through recognition and/or foundation grants. This pivot to a nonprofit sector that was seeded by both Great Society and New Federalism funding from the mid-1960s into the early 1980s has allowed black professionals to build careers, credentials, and expertise with their white counterparts. Other avenues to power remain clogged, at least to some extent. While there are black developers, bankers, and insurance executives, they are still underrepresented in those business ranks.61 The area of professional growth and political influence for black professionals is in the nonprofit sectors, which are increasingly the most dynamic components of interracial urban regimes. The longevity of black urban governance speaks to the routinization of interracial urban regimes and, with it, the persistence of working class precarity in the neoliberal city.
NotesI would like to thank Roxy Blocksdorf and Sabina Morris for their assistance in the research for this article.