Milwaukee Alderman Discusses Black Voters In Wisconsin
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In some parts of the country, Americans have already begun early voting in this year's presidential election. And for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, one path to the presidency goes through not only a state, Wisconsin, and not only a city, Milwaukee, but also a specific demographic there. Those are Black voters. In 2016, many Black voters stayed home in Milwaukee, and the state narrowly went to Trump. Some there worry it could happen again. Khalif Rainey is an alderman in Milwaukee, and he joins us now. Good morning.
KHALIF RAINEY: Hey. Good morning. Thank you for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is good to have you. As you know, in 2016, turnout among Black voters was down nationally about 7%, but in Milwaukee, it was down as much as 20%, more than in any other place. I spent some time in Milwaukee ahead of the 2018 election, where I spoke to African American voters. And they told me then that they often felt like national candidates weren't taking their concerns seriously. What are you hearing now about Donald Trump and Joe Biden?
RAINEY: Well, you know, as much as we would think that the community would be inspired to vote Trump out of office, it appears to be some discontent as it relates to the candidate that has been put forward by the Democratic Party. I think that I'm not alone when I say there's some - a bit of uncertainty as to what the outcome will be in this November 3's election.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, tell me about that. Are you hearing from constituents that they're going to sit this election out like they did last time?
RAINEY: No, I'm not hearing that specifically. But what I do know is when you cross-reference the inspiration that our community had when Obama ran for president, you know, you just don't feel that. Even though the sense of urgency should be there more than ever, I just don't feel as though the party has been able to galvanize the people.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you feel about Biden himself?
RAINEY: Well, I mean, we were the host of the Democratic National Convention, although it was extremely scaled back. Candidate Joe Biden chose not to come. I think that was a miscue. I also think that some of the rhetoric that I've heard, such as, you're not Black if you don't vote for Joe Biden - I think that that is ridiculous, you know, to say the least. And if our Blackness is determined by if we vote for a white candidate, Joe Biden, I mean, wow. Like, that's highly inflammatory.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Republicans are making a play for the Black vote. They opened their first Milwaukee field office in a predominantly Black neighborhood there in February. Have they made inroads?
RAINEY: Absolutely not. You know, not in that particular neighborhood on Martin Luther King Drive here in the central city of Milwaukee. That office is typically vacant, and not much activity is going on. It's going to be hard to make the case to Black people in the city of Milwaukee that Trump is their candidate.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why do you think people are disengaged, though? I mean, what is it that they want to hear that they're not hearing?
RAINEY: Through my experience - it's my understanding that people want to really see something that's tangible. You know, if we're talking about the middle class but we're failing to include, you know, an agenda for those of us who may live in poverty, you know, that's how you can ensure that you won't have a turnout that's in your favor. So the people in my community - you know, we want to hear something that means, OK, on my block, something's going to be better. In my family, something's going to change. And I think that's the challenge that the Democratic Party has. And as of now, I haven't seen that message that has resonated with the people.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to actually turn to the mechanics of voting because in April, Wisconsin went to the polls. And it was, quite frankly, a mess. Only five polling places open in all of Milwaukee. People had to wait in line for hours during a pandemic. Are you concerned about it being difficult for people there to actually cast their vote if they want to - about voter suppression?
RAINEY: I mean, absolutely. I mean, I think that's a concern not only here in the city of Milwaukee, but that's a concern around the country. I mean, think about it. We have foreign interference. We have thousands of voters being scrubbed from the voting rolls. We have this situation with the postal service. I mean, it's definitely a concern. So what we need to do as a community is we need to understand, what are the best practices? What are the best things that we can do to offset the impact or the efforts of voter suppression?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Alderman Khalif Rainey of Milwaukee. Thank you very much.
RAINEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.