A race in which race doesn’t matter?

Published 9:57 am Saturday, March 10, 2012

Former Franklin City Manager June Fleming, a trailblazer who grew up in the shadows of Little Rock’s Central High School before rising to the highest levels of civil service, likes to say that being first is overrated.

Fleming, the first African-American city manager of bustling Palo Alto, Calif., looks forward to the day, undoubtedly coming, when being black and holding an important position is no longer newsworthy.

We’re not quite there yet, so the serious candidacy of Raystine Johnson – who, if victorious on May 1, would become Franklin’s first female mayor and its first black mayor elected by popular vote—is worth noting.

Her story would be less interesting if she were on the victory path of least resistance: consolidating and energizing the African-American vote in a city that is majority-black. Council colleague Greg McLemore, if he stays in the three-candidate race, will ensure that doesn’t happen. Even 150 votes, which McLemore is bound to get, would prevent a Johnson win strictly along racial lines.

Rather, Johnson’s candidacy is remarkable because of the strong biracial support she is building—a coalition unprecedented in the city’s political history. For now, her white support is behind the scenes but significant in both its depth and prominence, including several business and civic leaders who historically have been among incumbent Mayor Jim Councill’s strongest supporters. Expect many of them to go public with their support of Johnson in the weeks ahead.

Councill, seeking a ninth term as mayor, is in the political fight of his life—in several ways more challenging than his unsuccessful bid a few years back to succeed his father in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Johnson’s campaign pledge of restoring the job of mayor to the ceremonial, gavel-wielding, one-vote position intended by the drafters of the city charter has struck a chord with many voters. She represents a stark contrast —in ways far beyond skin color—to the incumbent she seeks to unseat.

Councill has some experience himself with biracial politics. He has enjoyed small but steady African-American support throughout his political career.

A mayoral race in which voters cast their ballots based on the philosophies and positions of superbly qualified candidates—as opposed to their skin color—is refreshing and a sign, regardless of the outcome, that we’re getting closer to the colorblind society Fleming envisions.