Few minorities pursue Erie County offices
Oct 27, 2012 at 5:27 AM
It's a classy blue font on a white background: "Elect Beverly Hancock Juvenile Court Judge, Endorsed Democrat."
On a recent expedition down Marlboro Street in Sandusky, where she lives, Beverly Newell Hancock was quick to tout her values and explain what she'd bring to the table if elected juvenile court judge.
She wants to curb gang violence, for instance, and she'd like to limit the amount of time juveniles spend in jail prior to their conviction.
She faces incumbent juvenile court Judge Robert DeLamatre, a Republican, at the polls Nov. 6.
There's not much difference in Hancock's political signs and DeLamatre's signs.
In one noticeable respect, however, Hancock is quite different not just from DeLamatre, but all the other candidates running for a contested political office in Erie County this fall.
Hancock is the only black candidate in the bunch.
Nine other white hopefuls — incumbents and newcomers alike — are running for various offices, including two county commissioner seats, the treasurer's spot and the judge's spot.
The shortage of black candidates is disproportionate to Erie County's black population, U.S. Census data shows.
About 9 percent of Erie County residents are black. That's roughly 6,700 of the county's 77,000 people, according to U.S. Census data.
If using the Census data as a measuring stick, about 1 in 10 of Erie County's elected officials should be black. The reality is only one of the county's 15 elected officials is black: clerk of courts Luvada Wilson.
Voters never elected Wilson to her post. A judge appointed her to serve a 15-month term after her predecessor, Barb Johnson, died. Johnson was also black.
Wilson is running unopposed Nov. 6, which guarantees at least one black person will serve in an Erie County office after Election Day.
The shortage of black political candidates is no surprise to Joel Lieske, a Cleveland State University political science professor.
"People tend to favor those who are most like themselves," Lieske said. "If a district contained a majority of non-white voters, white candidates would be disadvantaged."
Hancock said she realizes few blacks run for office in Erie County, but the notion hardly bothers her.
"I don't get up in the morning and say, 'I wish some black people were running so I could vote for them,'" she said. "But I would love to see more diversity in publicly elected offices."
She assumed, like many others, the election of U.S. President Barack Obama four years ago would inspire more blacks to run for public office.
While that hasn't happened in any major way, the country's minority population continues to make achievements elsewhere.
"We were always told as kids, 'You can be president of the United States,'" Hancock said. "A lot of black children may not have believed that — until Barack Obama came along. And now they believe."
Regardless of the outcome on Nov. 6, Hancock hopes to set an example for black residents in Erie County.
"Maybe I can inspire young girls and young boys to pursue their dreams, whether it's an attorney, for office or whatever dream they have," she said.
Total population Black population (percent)
Erie County 77,000 8.7
Ohio 11.5 million 12.4
U.S. 311 million 13.1
Source: U.S. Census