Cherry Hill turnout appears up Feeling ignored, voters retaliate by flocking to polls

November 04, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer Staff writer Mark Bomster contributed to this article.

When it comes to votes and politicians, Geraldine Sheley has a hard-line philosophy: If you want her vote, you must come to her neighborhood and ask for it.

And because Bill Clinton was the only presidential candidate who made a campaign stop in Cherry Hill -- Ms. Sheley's South Baltimore neighborhood -- voting for him was easy. Mr. Clinton visited Cherry Hill in February.

"Some of the other ones left their campaigning here to their peons, but I like what Clinton has done in his campaign. He's been a lot more places than the other ones have," said Ms. Sheley, who has rented a small town house in Cherry Hill for the past eight years.

Predominantly black Cherry Hill is a Democratic stronghold that includes a handful of middle-class homeowners and renters, and many public housing residents.

Arthur W. Murphy, president of the Baltimore NAACP, estimated that the neighborhood had 16,000 residents a few years ago, but the figure has dropped to about 12,000. Mr. Murphy, who grew up in Cherry Hill, said the city housing authority relocated many of the neighborhood's public housing residents to renovated housing units.

Cherry Hill voters have turned out at a lower rate than the citywide average in the past two presidential elections, according to Board of Elections figures.

In 1984, for example, 65.5 percent of the city's registered voters cast ballots, while the totals in Cherry Hill ranged from 53.2 TC percent in the 11th Precinct to 64.5 percent in the 13th Precinct.

In 1988 voter participation dropped even further, as the Cherry Hill turnout ranged between 42.4 percent in the 11th Precinct and 49.9 percent in the 13th Precinct, compared with a 63 percent citywide voter turnout.

But yesterday, a steady stream of Cherry Hill voters headed to the polls, and poll workers said the turnout appeared to be heavier than usual. Some residents said their opposition to President Bush motivated them to vote. But they also accused all three major presidential candidates of ignoring their concerns.

Some of these voters said Mr. Clinton had only made perfunctory campaign appearances in black areas because he felt that he had a lock on the black vote. And others said Mr. Bush did not even bother to campaign for black votes while Ross Perot simply wrote off the black vote after he was criticized for referring to blacks as "you people" at the NAACP convention last summer.

"It's pretty easy not to vote for someone when they don't really give a darn about you," said Michelle Bagley, 59, as she left a polling place. Ms. Bagley, who has been a Cherry Hill homeowner for 40 years, said she voted for Mr. Clinton.

She saw a glimmer of hope in Mr. Clinton's decision to send running mate Sen. Albert Gore to Baltimore for last week's rally outside City Hall. "And that's close enough for me. It's in the city, not in the 'burbs," she explained.

Based on their perceptions of the candidates' campaign strategies, some Cherry Hill residents said they doubted whether any blacks will get high-level appointments -- no matter which candidate was elected.

Lifelong Cherry Hill resident Jonathan Gibson, 28, let the voting registration deadline pass because he felt blacks and their votes were of minimal importance to the candidates.

"I don't see anything that any of them have done for blacks -- not one thing. That's why I didn't even vote," Mr. Gibson said.

Mr. Gibson has been unemployed for three years and spends most of his days at the Cherry Hill Shopping Center "hacking," offering shoppers car rides for a price.

"I haven't seen anyone I would vote on. Bush didn't put any blacks anywhere. You know Perot's not. Clinton? Who knows?"

The absence of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson from the Clinton campaign trail has been obvious to some Cherry Hill voters. During the campaign, Mr. Jackson has made few appearances on Mr. Clinton's behalf, although he has led voter registration rallies.

Hard feelings apparently exist between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Jackson, who has accused the candidate of ignoring blacks and urban voters while trying to attract white, suburban voters.

Annie McCoy, 57, who has lived in Cherry Hill for 45 years and whose father still lives there, said all of the candidates seemed out of touch with blacks, but especially Mr. Bush. Ms. McCoy said she had little choice but to vote for Mr. Clinton.

"I wondered about Bush when he was asked a question during the last debate about the economy and to put himself in the place of someone in bad shape, and he couldn't do it. He had no idea what it would be like," Ms. McCoy said.

Perhaps of all of the Cherry Hill residents who went to the polls yesterday, 56-year-old Melvin Smothers, a neighborhood resident for 50 years, best summed up their mood.

He called Cherry Hill a "sleeping giant" that had not always voted strongly. But because of the community's high jobless rate, the "giant" had awakened.

"The people in Cherry Hill are voters who want a change. They want to see the candidates," he said. "The candidates haven't embraced the inner city because they feel that if they come with an economic problem, they'll get a backlash. So they think they can go to the suburbs where they'll be accepted. Now we want to see them, too."

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