First black Greenbelt council member says actions count

Emmett Jordan greets Judith Davis on the day he was elected to the City Council and she was reelected mayor. Jordan received enough votes to become mayor pro tem.
Emmett Jordan greets Judith Davis on the day he was elected to the City Council and she was reelected mayor. Jordan received enough votes to become mayor pro tem. (Raphael Talisman/the Gazette)
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By Jordan Attebury and Jeffrey K. Lyles
The Gazette
Thursday, December 3, 2009

It took Greenbelt slightly longer than the United States to elect its first black leader, but like President Obama, Emmett Jordan -- the city's first black council member -- wants less emphasis put on the color of his skin and more on what he plans to accomplish for his community.

"Many people are talking about how I am the first African American elected to [the] council, and I'm sure my grandparents would be very proud, but it's not a means to an end," Jordan said.

Jordan, 52, not only made history in being elected to the council Nov. 3, he also scored the second-highest number of votes, making him mayor pro tem, meaning that in the absence of Mayor Judith Davis, Jordan would serve as mayor.

"I'm going to continue the responsible fiscal management, but I'm also going to be open to thinking outside the box and not being so traditional," he said.

Jordan, a Cincinnati native who has lived in Greenbelt for 10 years, has been an independent consultant working in marketing and communications services for nonprofit groups and associations for 25 years, and self-employed for the past four.

Before joining the council, Jordan was involved with city organizations, including the Greenbriar Condominium Association, the Greenbelt Community Foundation and Greenbelt Neighbors Alliance.

"Greenbelt has an interesting mix of people you don't find in other places," he said.

The city had lacked minority representation on its council, an issue some residents brought to Mel Franklin, the Greater Marlboro Democratic Club's president, who in turn took the matter to the NAACP chapter in Prince George's County in January 2008.

The last black candidate for city office was on the ballot in 1979; another withdrew from the 1993 city elections. This year, Jordan was joined by another black City Council candidate, Che Sayles, who received the most votes from Greenbelt West, where he lives in Empirian Village, but the least votes of all the candidates city-wide.

"I at least felt it was worth having a discussion with the NAACP," Franklin said. "It's great that all of that along with the Greenbelt electorate led to the first African American city councilman. It was a great outcome. Greenbelt residents reacted in making history."

To have a council more reflective of the community, the NAACP suggested after a meeting in the spring with the City Council and residents that the city be divided into five districts with a council member from each. The NAACP supported district voting over the city's at-large voting because, county NAACP President June White Dillard said, smaller districts would provide a greater opportunity for more people to run for office.

Although the council did not support that initiative, it approved a measure to increase its membership from five to seven by a 4 to 1 vote June 25.

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