Minorities outnumber whites in Gwinnett County, but fail to vote in their best interests
Radloff’s 2008 foe, Ravindra Kumar, a former college professor who works as a scientist, was preparing for another run against the incumbent. But Kumar said when he saw the Democratic Party leadership’s response to Radloff’s party swap, he felt that it was a veiled message to him to sit the race out.
“They brought Radloff in to kill me (and) embraced her like some fairy godmother,” Kumar said. “From bottom to top, the Democrat system was with her. Just like they were in 2008 when she ran as a Republican. They are friends. What they don’t like in Gwinnett is for people to contest races. They have never supported minorities to come to power in the county for fear that they will lose some of their power. It is racial politics and discrimination.”
Another school board candidate Kent Shiver, a black IT consultant, said he also was shut out of the race to defeat Radloff. He claims that he tried to run against Radloff in the recent election -- first as a Democrat and then as an independent -- but was forced to withdraw after he was given misinformation from the county about qualifying and the number of petition signatures required.
Shiver says he is spending his time now learning the process and attending school board meetings so he will be ready when Radloff’s term ends.
“I won’t make the same mistakes as I did the first time and allow someone to give me the runaround,” Shiver said.
To win in politics in Gwinnett, minorities are going to have to show perseverance, widen their political base and pay their dues, adds Melvin Everson, who was the first black Republican elected to the Georgia Legislature.
Everson now works as executive director of Georgia’s Commission on Equal Opportunity. He was recently praised by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson for his “visionary” leadership and commitment to public service
Getting elected to office in Gwinnett County was an uphill battle, he said.
Everson began his political career at the city level. He was the first black elected to the Snellville City Council. He was defeated three times before winning in the mid 1990s.
“Each time I lost, I did not go away; people still saw me in the community,” said Everson, who served on Snellville’s zoning board before his council victory. “You have to get your name out there and let people know what you believe in. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I had a broad base of support.’’
Everson said minorities also have to be willing to invest in local political campaigns if they want to see blacks, Hispanics and Asians elected to county office. Minority candidates need seed money to get started and many have to drain their savings accounts to get their message out, he said.
“It’s very costly,” Everson said. “My house seat race cost me $85,000 between my two campaigns.”
Everson lost his first bid for state legislature in 2004. He won a year later in a special election when the seat was vacated.
If Gwinnett County blacks, whose roots in the county date back to the 1800s, lose the race to be among the first minorities elected to county office, they have themselves to blame, said Marlyn Tillman, who worked with Falk to organize the Gwinnett Coalition to Dismantle the School To Prison Pipeline.
“When you are so focused on survival, you don’t see the big picture,” Tillman said. “The people we put in power, especially at the local level, have a bigger effect on our day-to-day than the people we elect at the federal level. We just don’t get it.”