In the real world, election will be influenced by race

March 21, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

Letters, calls and the roar of the crowd:

Cy Fishburn, Baltimore: You've written uplifting columns, clever columns, silly columns and some boring columns. Today, I read what is for me your first destructive column.

You say that the Kurt Schmoke/Mary Pat Clarke battle will be based on race, and you don't offer one shred of evidence to support this.

The statistics that you quote offer me no proof of your theory, but if enough people read this -- Roger, it's junk, OK? -- and believe it then you will have helped create your own news.

Feel good about that?

COMMENT: I feel fine. That's because I live in the real world, Cy, not Disney World.

I wrote that race rather than crime "may, in fact, dominate" the 1995 mayor's race, and I believe it.

What evidence do I offer? A lifetime of living in America.

Race has been a dominant factor in American life since this country's founding.

After black citizens got the vote, nobody cared if they voted as a bloc as long as they were voting for white candidates. (They had little choice; there were rarely black candidates for important positions.)

And if the Irish voted for the Irish and the Poles for the Poles and the Jews for the Jews, that did not excite much attention either. That was considered normal and commonplace.

But as soon as black people started running for office and black voters voted for them in large numbers, then some people began decrying the impact of race on American politics.

What evidence is there that race affects voting patterns in Baltimore? When Schmoke gets 78 percent of the black vote in an election but only 30 percent of the white vote, this, Cy, is known as a clue.

But your letter does give me the opportunity to point out something I didn't point out in my March 13 column on the subject:

I wrote that if Schmoke does only as well in the black community in 1995 as he did in 1991, he would get 49 percent of the total vote.

But consider this: In 1991 Schmoke was running against a well-known black candidate (as well as a minor white candidate), and that drained off part of Schmoke's black vote.

Without a black candidate running against him (so far) for 1995 and faced with a major white opponent, Schmoke should do far better in the black community and worse in the white community.

But doing worse in the white community doesn't matter. If Schmoke improves his margin in the black community by only 3 percentage points, he can win victory outright.

Think Schmoke can't get 81 percent of Baltimore's black vote?

In 1992, Bill Clinton got 91 percent.

Will race inevitably be the dominant issue in September 1995? No. Anything could happen.

If 50 people are gunned down the week before the election, I guess crime would dominate.

If three bridges collapse that week, infrastructure would dominate.

If there is a scandal, personal or political, in either the Schmoke camp or the Clarke camp, then character would dominate.

But I disagree with those who say that if the election were held today that crime would dominate and Schmoke would fail to be re-elected.

If the elections were held today, Schmoke would very likely win. That's not an endorsement. That's the way I crunch the numbers:

The fact is, that while Schmoke will campaign in both the black and white communities of Baltimore, and while both he and his opponent will receive votes from both communities, Schmoke can be re-elected mayor of Baltimore without a single white vote.

Clarke's task, however, is formidable. Even if she gets 100 percent of the white vote (which is a practical impossibility), she would still need a significant number of black votes to win.

As Clarke well knows, the best thing she could do to help herself in this election is not to come up with a platform or a slogan or an issue, but to come up with a popular black candidate to make it a three-way race.

You may not like that kind of world, Cy, but then your task becomes creating a better world. I'll even join you.

But turning a blind eye to the society that exists does not hasten that day.

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