The Road to Caracas, From Macon With Love

Over the past few months, C. Jack Ellis has become as familiar a name in some households outside Macon, Georgia as inside Macon.  The first black mayor of Macon, GA, a deeply rooted city in the heart of the South, Ellis, in February, converted to Islam and declared himself Hakeem Mansour Ellis.  He then declined to legally change his name.  His latest stunt, however, made international headlines.

On Thursday, August 9, 2007, the Macon Telegraph published a small article announcing Mayor Ellis had declared his solidarity with Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan dictator who called President Bush the “devil” in front of the United Nations.  The next day Mayor Ellis held a news conference stating, “We commend President Chavez for the things he’s done in this country . . . . We want to work for peace and harmony … through the mayors of Venezuela."  Ellis was referring to Citgo subsidizing heating oil in New York.  He wanted his share of Venezuelan “petro-dollars” as he called Venezuela’s currency.

The public outcry was swift, forceful, and loud.  Macon Councilwoman Nancy White, away for the weekend after Mayor Ellis’s statement, returned to her office on Monday to discover her email inbox filled with letters from irate residents and people from out of town declaring a boycott of Macon.  State Senator Cecil Staton (R) and State Representative Allen Peake (R), both of Macon, were so inundated with calls and emails, they held a press conference on August 15, and were joined by nine other local elected officials from City Hall to the Georgia General Assembly.

“He’s said a lot of embarrassing things,” Rep. Peake began the press conference, “but this time he’s gone too far.”  One after the other, elected officials went to the podium to make sure everyone knew Mayor Ellis does not speak for Macon, only for himself.  Of course Ellis attempted to make clear last week that he was speaking both as Mayor of Macon and as Vice President for Tourism of the World Conference of Mayors.

Nancy White, after the overflow of her email inbox, introduced a resolution I helped draft, that would prohibit Mayor Ellis from traveling to any country certified as not complying with American anti-terrorism efforts by Secretary of State Condelezza Rice.  Only one country is so certified — Venezuela.  Out of an abundance of caution, the resolution would also prohibit travel to any country certified by Secretary Rice as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Unfortunately, Mayor Ellis is not available for comment or to answer any questions.  Immediately after declaring his solidarity with the Bolivarian Monster, Ellis fled the country to Africa where he will stay until the end of the month.  Through a spokesman, he now claims he was misunderstood and actually was referring to the mayor of Caracas, Venezuela, despite affirming to a reporter for the Telegraph last week that he was declaring his solidarity with Hugo Chavez.

In the early nineties, Macon, following a trend in the South, went from a majority white demographic to a majority black demographic.  In 1999, the voters swept Mayor Ellis into office as the first black mayor in the city’s history.  Reflecting the city’s changed demographics, the voters gave him a majority black city council.  Four years later, black voters continued to support the man and his politics while white voters were ready to wash their hands of him.  Interracial discord simmered in the city.  Black voters voted for black candidates and white voters voted for white candidates.  Mayor Ellis won re-election and white voters immediately began a failed recall effort.

This year, black voters and white voters in this city that is 7 to 1 Democrat and 60% to 40% black to white finally reconciled their differences and united to repudiate Mayor Ellis.  Four weeks ago Macon’s voters elected a majority white city council, which will be sworn in with a white mayor from North Macon; “North Macon” being a code word for rich WASP who is a member of Idlehour, the, still in 2007, all-white country club in the northern part of the city.  In every contested city council race, the voters threw out every member of City Council who supported C. Jack Ellis.  I will be one of the new city council members.

Words have meaning. Mayor Ellis’s use of the word "solidarity" speaks volumes about what he thinks of this country and those citizens he serves. Or, perhaps not. Given the mayor’s public statements connected to his expression of solidarity, it’s most likely Mayor Ellis knows nothing of Hugo Chavez’s record, perhaps through willful ignorance, and just thought it’d be cool to see his name in national papers one more time before he leaves office.

Either way, it is unfortunate.  Either way, the voters are done with Mayor Ellis if they can only restrain his activities for three more hot, humid months.