Black club rejects ticket with white incumbents After group's vote, Whitaker won't run with Curran, Cunningham in 3rd.

August 05, 1991|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Saying it was placing principle above political pragmatism, the most influential black political club in the city's 3rd District has rejected a proposal to form a ticket with the two white incumbent council members.

Incumbents Martin E. "Mike" Curran and Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham offered several weeks ago to join forces with Maegertha "Mary" Whitaker, the candidate supported by the 43/44 Democratic Club, of which she is a member.

Oliver Green, who is Whitaker's campaign manager, president of the 43/44 Club and chairman of its endorsement committee, took the proposal to the club's membership Friday. The endorsement committee had recommended the alliance with the incumbents.

Green told the club that Whitaker's campaign did not have the money or the manpower at this point to carry a strong surge through the primary election on Sept. 12. If Whitaker ran with Curran and Cunningham, the three could pool resources for joint mailings, lawn signs and campaigning, Green said.

"We don't want to do anything to split the club, but looking at this pragmatically, it may be the only chance we have to get Mary elected," Green told the membership Friday.

"The reasons we encouraged blacks to run in this district is that we want change because we are tired of the same politicians vTC from the same old political clubs representing us," said Carolyn Britton, arguing against the proposal. "How can you call for change and support the incumbents."

"I agree that we need change, but sometimes you have to go for change one step at a time," Deborah McCray said. "Getting Mary elected is the first step."

Sherman Merrill said he found allying with the incumbents to be distasteful, but "if it takes making a pact with the devil to get Mary into office, then let's do it."

The incumbents had actually already decided to order lawn signs and literature without a third ticket-mate after Whitaker told them she couldn't come up with money to join the ticket, Cunningham said late last week. But they were still awaiting the club's decision and hadn't ruled out forming a ticket with Whitaker later, he said.

The club and the two incumbents have never enjoyed a good relationship. Curran and Cunningham vigorously but unsuccessfully fought the appointment of Barbara Green, the club's chairwoman, to the city zoning board.

Redistricting changed the 3rd District from having a white majority to about 60 percent black. Proponents of the new redistricting plan hoped the change would lead to the election of the first black representative in the 3rd.

Some club members said other candidates other than the incumbents should be considered to run with Whitaker. In fact, two other club members, Nina Harper and Linda Janey, are candidates in the race.

But they decided to run weeks after Whitaker announced she would be willing to be the club's candidate. The club initially voted just to endorse Whitaker.

Barbara Green chastised the membership for not rallying behind Whitaker. Green, no relation to Oliver Green, said the club "voted to make Mary our candidate and every member has a responsibility to help her to victory."

In the end, it was Whitaker herself who decided the outcome. She had gone to the meeting supporting the proposal as laid out by her campaign manager. Then, shortly before the membership was to take a secret ballot vote on the proposal, she indicated she would vote against it.

After defeating the proposal, the club voted, with only one dissent, to just endorse Whitaker.

"I saw the club becoming divided over it," Whitaker said. "I'm a team player and I'm commited to the club."

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