Reverend Eugene Rivers In Hot Water Over Voting Record

The Reverend lambasts minorities for not voting, but hasn't voted in three decades.

Reverend Eugene Rivers just doesn’t seem to get it: Walking the walk is just as important as talking the talk, particularly when it involves talking about walking into a voting booth. The community activist and cofounder of the TenPoint Coalition took some heat last week after penning a strongly worded front page op-ed in the Herald castigating Boston’s black voters for failing to converge on a single candidate in the mayor’s race. Rivers is known for being a highly-coveted endorsement for area politicians, and he supported Charlotte Golar Ritchie in the primary.

In his piece, he pointed out that while  cities of the former southern Confederacy have elected minority leaders, the we in the Athens of America have fallen short. Here’s the gist:

What is remarkable is that 30 years after Melvin H. King’s quite extraordinary bid for mayoral leadership, the black community has actually gone backwards in terms of the level of sophistication exhibited, in an admittedly more complex political context.

It is clear today that the black community actually defeated itself by failing to develop a process by which we could discipline and organize our individual campaigns for the collective benefit of the community and the city.

Then, he lamented the lack of turnout to the polls in communities of color (for exactly what that looks like, see these maps).

It is striking that a map of the voter turnout in the city reveals that the participation of communities of color, despite the abundance of candidates of color, was again extremely lackluster, in an election where turnout was generally low.

The problem though, and one that he conveniently failed to acknowledge, is that Reverend Rivers didn’t vote. And apparently he has a habit of not voting. Adrian Walker at the Globe had heard rumors to that effect, but he got the Reverend to admit that he hasn’t cast a ballot in over three decades, despite using his endorsement as a fulcrum to sway candidates toward his agenda. Why? “He got busy.” (Sigh. What would Frank Navasky think? ) Here’s Walker:

In fact, for well over a decade he has never voted — even though he enthusiastically endorses candidates and just as eagerly trashes their opponents. Rivers hasn’t cast a ballot since at least 1996. Those endorsements he gave Nick Collins, Hillary Clinton, Golar Richie, among many others? None of them were backed up by an actual vote.

And nope, he didn’t cast a ballot for President Barack Obama or Governor Deval Patrick, either. But the real irony? It turns out that Rivers didn’t even go to the polls for Mel King. Not surprisingly, this has garnered more than a bit of hostility in the local press. As the Dorchester Reporter summed it up yesterday: “It is now well-established and beyond dispute that Rivers is a fraud and a hypocrite. Period.” And at this point, one would think that the Reverend would be embarrassed enough to let the story lie, perhaps keep a low profile for a few weeks before making his way to the polls in November. But instead he wrote a response in the Herald on Tuesday, defending himself:

Some in the media have correctly pointed out that I have not voted since I worked on the 1983 mayoral campaign of Melvin H. King. All right, I openly admit my shortcomings. But my individual vote was insignificant in comparison to the importance of the causes I supported.
So I state unequivocally that I regret that I haven’t voted over the last 30 years. But that mistake in no way affects my determination to continue serving the poor that many of my critics have ignored. And my voting record is no reason to hate on the messenger.

He holds that his ideas and his message are more important than whether he makes his way into a polling place. But what seems likely is that we may be hearing far less of his message as a result of these revelations. WGBH is supposedly reconsidering whether they will continue having him on retainer for Jim Braude and Margery Eagan’s news program. Rivers hopes to smooth things over and has encouraged Fox 25 and other area outlets to tape him casting his ballot on November 5. But they shouldn’t. Instead, they should let him become familiar with the unique silence that greets each citizen when they step into the voting booth.