Amid national debates over immigration, political civility, and a Supreme Court decision that upheld President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from Muslim-majority countries, voters went to the polls this week in seven states—races that garnered victories for Black women, men, and candidates of color nationwide.
Primary and run-off elections were held for local, state and national offices yesterday in New York, Maryland, Colorado, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Mississippi. The races yielded nailbiters, upsets and history-making moments.
As the primary season continues, one political expert told ESSENCE that so far, 10 African American women candidates who represent both sides of the aisle have already secured their positions on the November ballot; at least 10 others will seek party nominations in the weeks to come.
“There is certainly growing energy and interest leading into the midterm elections from the candidates as well as the voters to be part of the change that will ensure there will be new voices around decision-making tables,” said Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights, a national organization that works to increase the ranks of Black women office-holders. “This November presents an opportunity to reconfigure the elected leadership in America."
In New York, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), a daughter of Caribbean immigrants who has represented Brooklyn in Congress for more than a decade, won a tight race. She was challenged by Adem Bunkeddeko, a Harvard graduate and the son of Ugandan refugees. He’s among a new crop of millennials who’ve joined scores of women in seeking office nationwide.
Clarke is a founder and co-chair of the Black Women & Girls Caucus on Capitol Hill. She’s co-sponsored and worked to pass legislative measures on issues that often impact women, including equal pay, affordable healthcare, and reproductive health. Clarke also worked to help pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.
The Congressional race wasn’t officially called until hours after the polls closed. Incumbent Clarke received 51.9 percent of votes, per reports, and her challenger 48.1 percent.
In other New York Congressional races, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young community organizer of Puerto Rican descent, ran a progressive campaign that shook the establishment with her win in the 14th Congressional District, which includes sections of the Bronx and Queens. Ocasio-Cortez, who worked on the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), upset Joe Crowley, a longtime Democratic Congressman potentially in line for a key House leadership position.
In Maryland, several African-American women won high profile primary races. In Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, the State's Attorney who received national attention after charging officers in the 2015 police custody death of Freddie Gray, bested two male challengers.
Backed by a number of local clergy and civic leaders, Mosby focused on accomplishments in her first term including what her team touted as a 92 percent felony conviction rate. She’s also hosted a series of youth-focused programming around the city.
“This election was about each and every one of you—the people of Baltimore,” said Mosby during an election night victory speech. “And tonight the people have spoken.”
In Prince Georges County—a predominately African American jurisdiction outside Washington, D.C.—State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks won the Democratic nomination for County Executive in a race against former Congresswoman Donna Edwards. Alsobrooks ran on a platform that included education, public safety, jobs/economic development; her campaign website noted: “Our children have unlimited potential.”
Jill Carter, a Baltimore civil rights lawyer, won a State Senate race against a white male challenger with high profile supporters including activist DeRay Mckesson. Carter, a Democrat who previously served as a Delegate in Maryland's General Assembly, generated significant support from women and grassroots advocates.
The wave of Black women running for, and winning, various offices nationwide, doesn’t surprise political insiders.
Waikinya J.S. Clanton is Director, African American and Women's Outreach for the Democratic National Committee. She recently helped the DNC launch a new initiative called “A Seat at The Table” aimed at African American women. Forums have already taken place in New York and Washington, D.C., with future events slated in Birmingham, New Orleans and elsewhere across the country.
“So often Black women show up [to vote] in a way no other demographic does,” Clanton told ESSENCE. “We need to be equipped with tools and resources to further organize and mobilize our communities.”
Nykidra Robinson, founder, and CEO of Black Girls Vote, Inc., a nonpartisan organization that works to educate voters of color, agreed.
“Voting is tied to the political and economic survival of Black people. We have to vote in order to change policies we don’t agree with,” said Robinson, a graduate student who added that she is encouraged by growing numbers of Black college women who want to engage in politics. “We have a chapter at Morgan State University [in Baltimore] and are getting requests from women who want to form chapters on other campuses. We’re still small and my team is made up of volunteers. But I hope we can raise the funds and get the support to make it happen.”
Black male candidates nationwide also enjoyed success in primary races on Tuesday.
Ben Jealous, a former NAACP national president, became the Democratic nominee in Maryland for Governor, winning amid a crowded field. The former Rhodes Scholar, who spoke on the campaign trail about his parents' interracial marriage and how it was once illegal, could become the state's first Black governor. He faces a popular Republican governor, Larry Hogan, in November.
Jealous, who was arrested with other demonstrators last year outside the Trump White House, received support and endorsements ranging from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) to comedian Dave Chappelle; Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) recently visited the state for a campaign rally with the candidate.
“Ben is a civil rights leader and community organizer who has spent his life running large complex organizations and pulling people together to get big things done," said Kathleen Matthews, Maryland Democratic Party Chair, in a statement.
Rep. Elijah Cummings was a top vote-getter among Maryland’s Congressional delegation in his successful re-election bid on Tuesday, and in South Carolina, Brandon Brown won the Democratic nomination for the 4th Congressional District. A former Associate Vice President at Jackson State University, the HBCU advocate proudly noted his Christian faith during the campaign.
In Colorado, Joe Neguse—an attorney and son of Eritrean immigrants—won the 2nd Congressional District primary by a wide margin. The Democrat, endorsed by Vice President Joe Biden and environmental groups, could become the state’s first Black member of Congress. “We made state history last night!” he Tweeted.