Black voters stayed on board with Schmoke

September 14, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke built his victory in the Democratic mayoral primary last Thursday on a bedrock of strength in Baltimore's black voting precincts, easily offsetting an apparent ambivalence toward him among white voters.

Having wielded the decision-making and patronage powers of mayor for four years, Mr. Schmoke consolidated his standing in the city's black neighborhoods. But that same leverage served him less well among whites -- who gave him no more support overall than he received as an untested candidate four years ago.

According to a computer analysis of the unofficial election returns by The Sun, Mr. Schmoke won a majority of the white votes in only one of six councilmanic districts, Northwest Baltimore's 5th. He was the first choice of voters in white precincts of the center-city 2nd District, but his 46 percent tally there was less than a majority.

Several veteran white city political figures say that Mr. Schmoke, who is black, is still in the process of introducing himself to the voters in their districts.

"People liked him when they saw him," said Delegate Paul E. Weisengoff, who accompanied the mayor to a campaign rally with about 120 people in virtually all-white Morrell Park in Southwest Baltimore. "If more of our people had come out that night he'd have done even better."

Councilwoman Jacqueline F.McLean, D-2nd, who won the Democratic nomination for city comptroller, also won in the Morrell Park precincts. "She came and campaigned," Mr. Weisengoff said. "We had her on our ballots. She came to rallies. She was very warm and affable. This should have been very strong Landers country."

Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers ran second in the race for comptroller. Mrs. McLean is black. Mr. Landers is white.

For Mayor Schmoke, the advantages of being an incumbent and the perceived front-runner brought endorsements from several old-line white political clubs, including Mr. Weisengoff's, but that did not always overcome the doubts of voters or convince them to give up old political loyalties.

* Analysis

In West Baltimore's Edmondson Village, the 41-year-old mayor demonstrated his increasing strength among black voters.

In the 11th Precinct of Ward 16, where he won by 2-to-1 four years ago, Mr. Schmoke's margin was 5-to-1 Thursday.

He had hoped to make gains in East Baltimore as well, the home turf of his major opponents, former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns and William A. Swisher, the former Baltimore state's attorney.

On election eve, Mr. Schmoke was invited to the organizational meeting of state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-Baltimore, who, along with the other eight city senators, had endorsed Mr. ** Schmoke.

"He said he was glad to be here and that he felt he had turned a corner over here," Senator Miedusiewski said.

The results indicated otherwise.

In the polling place at School 230, at the intersection of Highland Avenue, Clinton Street, Fait Avenue and Hudson Street, Mr. Schmoke ran well behind both Mr. Burns and Mr. Swisher.

"Du has always been a favorite around here," Senator Miedusiewski. "Du comes down and says, 'This is my home.' You have to maintain a presence over here. You have to let people see you. That's what Du did. You called him, he came. I don't care if it was a turtle race. That was Du's strong point."

Mr. Schmoke has other strengths, but a more consistent presence would pay off for him in East Baltimore, the senator said.

In some of these areas, though, the organizations and the mayor's appeals were effective.

In the Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods of Lakeland, Violetville, Morrell Park and in neighborhoods around Frederick Avenue, Delegate Weisengoff said, Mr. Schmoke made a number of converts.

Among Mr. Weisengoff's constituents -- Ward 25, Precincts 1 through 6 -- the incumbent mayor took 44 percent of the vote to 32 percent for Mr. Burns and 25 percent for Mr. Swisher.

"It's a tremendous turnaround for him to break even with Swisher and Burns in Morrell Park," Delegate Weisengoff said. The area is all-white except for three or four families, he said.

"There is still an enormous reservoir of goodwill for the mayor," said Delegate Samuel I. Sandy Rosenberg, a Democrat of Northwest Baltimore, "but there is some discontent."

Nevertheless, in the 1st Precinct of the 28th Ward, at Fallstaff Middle School, Mr. Schmoke did significantly better than in 1987. Four years ago, Mr. Burns won comfortably; on Thursday, it was Mr. Schmoke who won comfortably.

Mr. Rosenburg says the over-55, largely Jewish voters there say crime was the major concern -- and major complaint with the Schmoke administration. "If the crucial issue now is generating more revenue for the city," Delegate Rosenberg said, "the mayor needs to use his mandate to do just that to generate support for the urgent needs of the city."

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