We’ve heard this one before

I felt like I was square dancing and the call “next verse same as the first” came through when I heard that New York Congressman Peter King was retiring. Headlines immediately started flying “Democrats and Republicans scramble to replace Peter King.” Why are the Democrats scrambling? There is a Black woman who has been campaigning since May to unseat Representative King and her name is Jackie Gordon. 

Jackie Gordon is an immigrant, a combat veteran, an educator, a public servant, and a community leader and she has been putting in the work. After serving 29 years in the United States Army Reserve where she was deployed to Germany, Guantanamo Bay, and Baghdad, she retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. When not on reserve duty, Jackie worked for 30 years in the New York public schools serving as a guidance counselor and mentor. In 2007 she was elected to the Babylon Town Council where she chaired the Veterans Advisory Council.  She has drawn on her deep roots across New York’s 2nd Congressional District to garner support from a wide range of stakeholders...yet the Democrats are looking for a candidate.  By way of comparison, in 2018 Representative King was almost defeated by Liuba Grechen Shirley in the most contested campaign of his career. Grechen Shirley didn’t launch her campaign for NY-2 until October of 2017 but was able to raise over $125,000 in her first disclosure statement filed 11 months before the general election. Jackie launched her campaign to unseat King in May of this year and raised over $110,000 in her first disclosure statement, 18 months before the general election.

Hello, Democrats. No need to look further. You have your candidate. And get this: if you invest in her, she’ll win. 

We saw this same story play out in 2018 in New Jersey, Florida, Nevada and other states. Black women stepped up to the fight before it was considered politically expedient, and then, when the fight seemed winnable, the Black woman was pushed aside in favor of someone who was more politically palatable: someone who was either white or male or both.  

Arguably, of the seats that flipped in the 2018 election, 3 out of 4 won with that strategy. One can theorize that the Black women candidates seeded the ground for the candidates that ultimately won, or, on the flip side, the Black women’s candidacies weren’t viable which is why other candidates had to step in. 

This latter argument should sound aggravatingly familiar to anyone who has already picked their candidate in the Democratic presidential primary and is feeling frustrated that there is still so much chatter that “the right candidate” has not yet entered the race,  prompting the exploratory campaign of Michael Bloomberg and the late entrance of Deval Patrick. Democrats across the political sphere are saying, “We need to just get behind one candidate and make that candidate the strongest they can be.” 

That same desire to coalesce around one candidate in the presidential race should be brought to House and Senate contests. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for primaries. I think primaries help flush out issues and policies that can and should bring more of the electorate into the process in determining who becomes the nominee. What I am opposed to is when gatekeepers and powerbrokers put their thumb on the scale instead of letting the voters decide.  Powerbrokers and gatekeepers are exactly that. They wield their power and guard their gates to preserve the status quo– white male patriarchy.

What does a Black woman have to do to get equal treatment by the powers that be? Campaign like a white man? If 2018 taught us anything, we should know that when candidates campaign as their authentic selves, bringing their full life experience to the voters, the voters respond and vote for them. Voters are looking to have more diverse voices in Congress because they are realizing that there are more voices that are not at the decision-making tables than are. 

All Black women want is a fair shot, to not have to campaign against someone when the system has their thumb on the scale. 

Let Jackie run. Give her the full support of the party and other power structures and let’s see what happens.  

Don’t make her the sacrificial lamb that paves the way for others.

Kimberly Peeler-Allen has been working at the intersection of race, gender and politics for almost 20 years. Kimberly is the Co-founder of Higher Heights, a national organization building the political power and leadership of Black women from the voting booth to elected office, and is currently a visiting practitioner at the Center for American Women and Politics.