Relax, whites -- You can still get elected It's blacks, not whites, who cross the line

Gregory P. Kane

April 03, 1991|By Gregory P. Kane

THE CITY COUNCIL representatives from the 3rd and 6th districts who've been whipped into high dudgeon by Councilman Carl Stokes' redistricting plan need to be reminded of one thing: There are no black council members from the 1st, 3rd or 6th districts.

In all the ruckus over redistricting, it's odd that few of the participants -- not even black council members -- mentioned this fact. To hear the injured parties from the northeast and south tell it, this is what happened the past three weeks:

The city of Baltimore, a veritable paradise of racial harmony and understanding with equitably drawn councilmanic districts, was rendered asunder by black council members who rammed an unfair and racist redistricting plan down the city's gullet.

I have some reassuring news for the representatives from the predominantly white councilmanic districts in Baltimore: Peace, my pale brethren. You can still get elected.

Remember that two of the white members on the council represent predominantly black districts.

Remember that council President Mary Pat Clarke won election with substantial black voter support against a black candidate.

Remember also that William Donald Schaefer received over 50 percent of the black vote in his 1983 campaign against Billy Murphy.

The message is clear. Black voters in predominantly black councilmanic districts have no problem voting for white candidates. White voters in predominantly white councilmanic districts apparently have no similar affinity for black candidates.

Besides Clarke, two of the white council members who supported Stokes' proposal, Rikki Spector and Tony Ambridge, are from predominantly black districts. I suspect one reason they did so is because they know that if a white council Z representative gets the job done, it's no problem getting elected and re-elected from predominantly black districts.

To cite one example of "getting the job done," let me tell a story about Tony Ambridge, the feisty, intrepid councilman from the 2nd District. About five years ago, a friend and co-worker had trouble getting her request for federally subsidized "Section 8" housing approved. She had applied, but her request had, apparently, vanished in the nether regions of bureaucratic paperwork. She was told she would have to re-apply and be put on a waiting list. She sought my counsel.

"You have two options," I advised. "You can be content to remain on the waiting list and get your Section 8 approved at about the same time you're ready for Social Security. Or you can contact one of your City Council representatives."

"Which one should I contact?" she wanted to know.

"Well," I said, "you live in the 2nd District. You need somebody competent and dedicated. Try Tony Ambridge."

She wrote to Ambridge. In very short order, she got her request approved. That's how Tony Ambridge manages to get re-elected from a predominantly black district. And if Kweisi Mfume should stumble as U.S. congressman for Maryland's 7th District, Ambridge would do well to consider running for the seat. He could win it.

So Ambridge's colleagues in the 1st, 3rd and 6th districts needn't worry. They can rest assured that in most elections blacks in Baltimore and Maryland are going to vote their politics, not their race.

In 1983, Clarence "Du" Burns ran for president of the City Council against Mary Pat Clarke. He made a not-very-subtle racial appeal to black voters. It left me with a dilemma when I went to the voting booth. "Should I be a race man and vote for Du Burns," I asked myself, "or should I vote my politics and go with Clarke?" I am a race man, but in that election I voted my politics. So did most black voters in the 1988 senatorial race between Allan Keyes and Paul Sarbanes.

I wish I could say something as kind about the white voters of the city, but their record is not encouraging. Voters in the predominantly white councilmanic districts have yet -- at least in modern times -- to send a black -- or even a woman -- to the City Council. (In the 3rd District, when a woman was appointed to a council seat, she was summarily dumped when elections came around.)

It was the white electorate which, in 1974, voted out of the state's attorney's office the competent black incumbent, Milton Allen, in favor of William Swisher, who ran a campaign that skirted the edges of race-baiting. When it comes to preaching to anyone about racial divisiveness or voting on the basis of qualifications rather than race, white voters in Baltimore had best start with themselves.

Gregory Kane writes from Baltimore.

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