THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS FACEBOOK when Floyd Adams Jr. was mayor of Savannah.

But if there had been, I seriously doubt a Facebook page called "Step Down, Mr. Mayor" would have over 1,100 "likes," as does the page directed at our current mayor, Otis Johnson.

We all had our occasional disagreements with Adams, Savannah's first African American mayor, during his two terms in office. But at no time did he send a message that he was anything but the mayor of all Savannah's citizens, regardless of his own historic achievement.

Adams' pragmatic attitude -- exemplified by his occasional attendance at the annual Confederate Memorial Day ceremony -- was reciprocated by nearly universal respect from the local white community, even those white Savannahians who voted for someone else.

Likewise, when the announcement was made last year that long-serving African American police officer Willie Lovett was to be appointed permanent chief of the Savannah/Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, there was almost no serious dissent from anyone, black or white.

Indeed, the overwhelming public sentiment was: "What took them so damn long?"

As far as anyone can tell, the main color on Chief Lovett's mind is blue, the color of police uniforms. And the only prejudiced bone in his body seems to be his prejudice against criminals -- regardless of the color of their skin.

So you see, the idea that white people in Savannah have some sort of collective issue with African Americans in local leadership roles is demonstrably, painfully, totally wrong.

Despite this, Mayor Johnson said last week in an open City Council meeting, "Now that the white candidate has been eliminated, all of a sudden it's an issue."

Besides being chronologically incorrect -- there was an "issue" long before San Antonio's Pat DiGiovanni was eliminated -- Johnson's sentiment is absurd and insulting given the fact that it's the year 2011, for God's sake, and we're trying to get the best available city manager in here, not cast a Benetton commercial.

His cynical and inflammatory playing of the race card was not only deeply offensive to those who've taken the time to study the backgrounds of the candidates -- for more about Alfred Lott see Patrick Rodgers' story this issue -- it was a clear sign of desperation.

Johnson's outburst was the equivalent of a parent being outmaneuvered and out-argued by their child and spluttering, "Because I said so."

That line usually works, but only because parents have the brute force to back it up -- as does Mayor Johnson in this case, with four other council members willing to back him.

To be fair, it must be said that the report that white members of City Council only listed DiGiovanni as a finalist certainly doesn't sound very flattering. And that will sound especially unflattering if and when the New York Times writes its version of events down here and crams it full of the usual Southern stereotypes.

But at least you can make a rational case that DiGiovanni was the most qualified candidate, given his clear advantage in experience and public feedback scores.

The report that black City Council members refused to list DiGiovanni's name at all would seem even more telling, and only makes it more obvious that the candidates' qualifications are simply not the main criteria being used for determining our next city manager.

It is true that American demographics are rapidly changing, and white people will have to get used to seeing more minorities in high-profile positions of power.

Like, oh say, President of the United States.

It's also true that at some point America will have to wrestle with the paradox of some citizens having federally-protected minority status when those citizens are actually a majority in most places they live, and enjoy the fruits of the political power that flows from majority status -- as is the case in Savannah.

And it is definitely true that Pat DiGiovanni is the happiest man in the world right now, since he won't have to deal with this mess.

But it's manifestly untrue that white Savannah will not accept a black city manager. On the contrary, the thing Savannahians of any color should not accept is the poor leadership being displayed right now in City Hall.

As for Mayor Johnson stepping down, he is term-limited and will have stepped down by this time next year regardless.

So you can click "Like" if it makes you feel better. But a more realistic course of action would be to acquaint yourself with the various candidates for mayor and aldermen -- black, white or other -- and act accordingly this November.


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About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more


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Connect Today 01.23.2017

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