Who rep­re­sents South Phoenix?

The Arizona Republic - - Opinions - Elvia Díaz Elvia Díaz is an ed­i­to­rial colum­nist for The Repub­lic and az­cen­tral. Reach her at 602-444-8606 or [email protected] zonare­pub­lic.com. Fol­low her on Twit­ter, @elvia­diaz1.

A lot has changed since AfricanAmer­i­cans and Lati­nos weren’t al­lowed to live north of the Salt River, seg­re­gat­ing them to the slums of south Phoenix.

Thank­fully, no­body can legally stop them from rent­ing or buy­ing a home any­where they want in a city that has grown to 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple — the na­tion’s fifth most pop­u­lous.

But hav­ing the le­gal right to in­te­grate with the rest of their fel­low Phoeni­cians isn’t the same as hav­ing the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal means to do so.

So, south Phoenix re­mains largely the same as it was dur­ing seg­re­ga­tion­ist days, made up of Lati­nos and AfricanAmer­i­cans, a num­ber of them who con­tinue to live in poverty-stricken pock­ets.

This year, African-Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos are fac­ing each other in the race to rep­re­sent Dis­trict 8, the south Phoenix City Coun­cil seat held by an AfricanAmer­i­can for 40 years un­til Kate Gal­lego broke that streak.

Gal­lego, who was mar­ried to Rep. Ruben Gal­lego, was the first non-black can­di­date to rep­re­sent the dis­trict since 1971 when Calvin Goode first joined the coun­cil. She re­signed last year for the may­oral bid.

African-Amer­i­cans now see the March 12 city elec­tion as their chance to re­take the seat, which Goode once said be­longed to them.

Let’s for­give Goode for that sense of en­ti­tle­ment be­cause he’s of a dif­fer­ent an era — one when ap­par­ent back­room deals were made to give the dis­trict cov­er­ing most of south Phoenix and down­town to African-Amer­i­cans.

Goode served on the coun­cil from 1971 to 1994. Two other African-Amer­i­cans, Cody Williams and Michael John­son, suc­ceeded him and served from 1994 through 2013.

Now, John­son is at­tempt­ing a come­back. Three other African-Amer­i­can can­di­dates — Roo­sevelt el­e­men­tary school dis­trict board mem­ber Lawrence Robin­son, Pas­tor War­ren Ste­wart, Jr. and busi­ness­man Ones­imus A. Stra­chan — are also vy­ing for the seat.

African-Amer­i­cans make up 15 per­cent of the dis­trict’s 183,000 pop­u­la­tion. Lati­nos? A whop­ping 60 per­cent.

No doubt, Lati­nos also see an op­por­tu­nity. En­ter area-na­tive Gil­bert Arvizu and ac­tivist Car­los Gar­cía. An­other as­pi­rant, me­dia strategist Ca­maron Steven­son, rounds out the long list of can­di­dates.

The race may be a yawner for the rest of Phoeni­cians, but it is one heck of a con­test given the area’s his­tor­i­cal con­text.

The po­lit­i­cal fight of­fers a glimpse of mod­ern-day seg­re­ga­tion. It re­ally re­flects how the racial marginal­iza­tion of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s still is play­ing out in 2019.

Why do African-Amer­i­cans feel en­ti­tled to the Dis­trict 8 seat? Be­cause the ma­jor­ity of them have re­mained in south Phoenix de­spite the city’s lift­ing its le­gal re­stric­tion of them be­ing able to move else­where.

Call it a sense of a pride, a cul­tural de­fi­ance to re­main in the place they were forced to live. But it is also an eco­nomic re­al­ity.

South Phoenix has ex­pe­ri­enced a hous­ing boom near South Moun­tain, but a huge swath be­tween down­town and the moun­tain fea­tures mostly ag­ing — some of them ram­shackle — homes.

The res­i­dents squeezed be­tween down­town’s posh high-rises and halfmil­lion-dol­lars moun­tain homes can’t af­ford to buy else­where. They’re left with strug­gling pub­lic schools, fail­ing in­fra­struc­ture, bar­ren pub­lic parks, and for din­ing op­tions, mostly fast-food joints.

You get the point.

You can’t blame African-Amer­i­cans who live there want­ing to have a voice on the coun­cil about the fu­ture of the only area they’ve called home.

But you can’t blame Lati­nos, ei­ther, who feel they’re the ma­jor­ity and thus de­serve to have a voice, too.

Ul­ti­mately, for­get about the sense of en­ti­tle­ment. That won’t cut it in mod­ern-day Phoenix. Who­ever gets the most votes, wins. Pe­riod.

The vic­tor car­ries the bur­dens — no, the hopes and as­pi­ra­tions — of gen­er­a­tions of Phoeni­cians who have long been eco­nom­i­cally op­pressed and iso­lated from the rest of the city. In that re­gard, the Dis­trict 8 of­fice car­ries heavy weight.

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