ALEXIS ALEXANDER and her mother Ann Robinson — obviously battered from the heat and long days knocking on doors — start holding up “5forAlexis” campaign signs just after rush hour at the corner of Liberty Parkway and Mills B. Lane, 52nd Street.
Each time a motorist honked with approval, Alexander, a 38–year–old administrative assistant screamed, cheered and giggled as if she were her own cheerleader.
She’s a political neophyte banking that her legacy as the stepdaughter of the late Robbie Robinson — and the fact she was raised in the 5th District — will push her ahead in a very competitive race for the Chatham County Commission.
The primary is this July 31.
Her opponents: Clinton Young; the popular but controversial Minister Yusuf Shabazz; and Warren Hickman, remembered for his organizing efforts during President Barack Obama’s presidential bid.
Alexander has a few political godfathers working behind the scenes trying to get her ready for the office. Retired Alderman Clifton Jones, for one, said he supports her candidacy because she listens and is willing to learn. He says her lack of political savvy should not be held against her.
“I don’t think any of them running has experience. They’ll all be basically starting from scratch.’’
It might be her nervous laughter, but the question of whether Alexander is ready to take on such a responsibility continues to come up each time she giggles before responding to a serious question.
Politicians aren’t born, Jones said.
“No matter what most people say about politicians, you rarely find homegrown politicians,’’ Jones said. ”People just decide that’s what they want to do. I’m supporting her because I believe she is the best candidate.”
Alexander’s life experience as the stepdaughter of Robinson might give her a leg up. She was just 8 years old when her mother married Robinson, a noted civil rights attorney with political aspirations.
Her mother says Alexis, a precocious child, felt comfortable listening to grown folks talk. And, she was there when Robinson started erecting campaign signs in the 5th District for a seat on City Council.
Robinson was a press–the–flesh type of politician, and he didn’t leave his stepdaughter at home when he sought a seat in the district that covers parts of the Savannah’s southside, inner city Savannah and formerly rural areas such as Liberty City, Richfield, Southover and Summerside.
She was 14 years old in December 1989 when Robinson became a Savannah legend, not only for what he did in life but the tragic way in which he died.
Robinson was cut down in his prime when Walter Leroy Moody, a failed law student, sent a pipe bomb to his office on Abercorn Street. He shared the same fate on the same day as a U.S. Appellate Court Judge Robert Vance in Birmingham, Alabama.
(Two other mail bombs were sent to a federal court in Atlanta and the Jacksonville, Fla. office of the NAACP but those bombs were discovered before they exploded.)
Robinson and Vance died as a result of the horrific work of Moody, a domestic terrorist now serving two life terms, plus 400 years. It’s ironic that Moody’s signature trademark on the mail bombs was patriotic.
The pipe bombs were wrapped in brown paper tied with string, printed red and white labels and postage stamps depicting an American flag.
Savannah leaders named a parking garage near the courthouse after Robinson, as well as ad two neighborhood parks where little children play and older children scribble names on picnic tables.
It’s believed that Robinson’s work in the civil rights movement made him a target. He wrote legal briefs urging the desegregation of Savannah schools and participated in other efforts with John Finney, now executive director of the Economic Opportunity Authority; and Mayor Edna Jackson, said Finney, also an Alexander supporter.
Elected the first African–American alderman in his district in the mid–’80s, Robinson placed the first traffic light at Liberty Parkway and 52nd Street; where Alexis and his late wife now campaign.
He made sure other rural areas annexed by the city received a fair share of paved roads, street lights, sidewalks, fire hydrants and storm drains. Those are monumental occasions for neighborhoods that only fairly recently had turned from pig farming in backyards to subdivisions. For many Robinson’s name stands for progress.
As for his stepdaughter, she’s screaming up a storm and knocking on doors and, unusually, is keeping her campaign off the Internet.
She blames Google for inaccurately informing her that if elected she’d be the first female commissioner in the 5th District. She put that information on her campaign literature and had to apologize publicly for not knowing that the late Deanie Frazier had served in that post.
She knows when people recognize her on the street as Robinson’s stepdaughter they assume that she’s trying to step into his shoes.
“He taught me if you come in contact with people you can reach them,” Alexander says.
“A lot of people look at me and they think I’m trying to be like him. He taught me his ways and he gave me a foundation. But I could never be Robert Robinson.’’
If you ask the street committee, they’re betting that Yusuf Shabazz, an ambitious political upstart who has had to overcome his history of being placed on an extremist watch list by the Southern Poverty Law Center less than a decade ago, has transformed his image as a “bad news” candidate.
Shabazz says he no longer has ties to The New Black Panther Party in Savannah and presents himself as a civil engineer, restaurant owner and recently ordained minister in a church he and his wife (who represents the district on City Council) founded.
Ironically, given Alexander’s family roots, Shabazz actually has more name recognition. And at the ballot box name recognition counts.