An election worth counting

Baltimore Glimpses

August 16, 1994|By Gilbert Sandler

WITH SOME key statewide political races looking unpredictable this fall, the pundits probably will call some of the races "hard fought" after the elections.

But probably no contest will equal what many view as the hardest fought local election in recent history. It was the 1938 Democratic primary election when Tommy D'Alesandro Jr., in his first race for Congress, beat 3rd District incumbent Vincent Palmisano. That campaign had everything -- wild electioneering, premature victory celebrations, calls for recounts. In the end, it was a classic cliffhanger.

Recalling the election years later, D'Alesandro said, "I went house to house in Little Italy. When I saw a Palmisano sign in Little Italy, I went inside and put a D'Alesandro sign right next to it."

His sister, Jessica Grenese, recalled, "He sent me into St. Leo's to pray to St. Anthony."

Prayer was needed.

On election night, the media called D'Alesandro the unofficial winner -- by 48 votes. D'Alesandro, 12,909. Palmisano, 12,861.

The D'Alesandro forces could contain themselves no longer. While the votes were still being counted, Tommy's supporters carried him on their shoulders out of his headquarters in the Emerson Hotel (at Baltimore and Calvert streets) and over to Little Italy to celebrate.

D'Alesandro supporters declared victory. They began signing and dancing in the streets of Little Italy. But word leaked out that the official count made Palmisano the winner by seven votes. D'Alesandro flew into a rage and petitioned for a recount.

A week later, D'Alesandro was declared the winner by 58 votes.

D'Alesandro called a press conference. Before a roomful of reporters, he said, "Gentlemen, I wish to withdraw my request for a recount."

Palmisano refused to admit defeat, saying he would wait for a recount.

Now that was a hard-fought election.

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