Vote by vote, a sea change in state politics

November 10, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Early on election night, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's telephone rang and an old friend's voice brought him the first of the night's numbers. It was a midday tabulation from Montgomery County: Of more than 100,000 votes cast, Parris Glendening had 59 percent, Ellen Sauerbrey 41. This was considered very bad news. For Glendening.

"I think it's all over," Schaefer was told. "He needs 65 percent in Montgomery."

"Can he still win this thing?" Schaefer asked.

"No," he was told flatly.

It was 8:20 in the evening, and already it was looking grim for Glendening. On East Baltimore Street, with the neon lights of The Block seeping through windows, state Board of Elections officials were gathering in a back room for the lumbering process of tearing open envelopes from around the state and adding the numbers together.

Now, at 8:45, they were coming in from the various precincts of the city, where Parris Glendening needed to coalesce not only poor black voters wary of the Ellen Sauerbrey tax plans that threaten social programs, but middle-class homeowners, whites and blacks, who fear that such cuts will inevitably translate to higher city property taxes.

More bad news for Glendening: From traditionally Democratic working-class Locust Point, a slim victory. From racially mixed Belair-Edison, another razor-edged win. From Highlandtown, a handful of votes separating the two candidates.

"When a Republican gets that kind of vote in Highlandtown. . ." said Gene Raynor, the state administrator of elections. "Even Teddy McKeldin didn't get this kind of a vote in Highlandtown, and he got more votes from Democrats than any Republican in history. If Glendening don't hit her 10 to 1 in black areas, it's over."

It was 8:50 now, and the numbers began coming in from the city's black precincts: From North Avenue and Broadway, 179 to 9 for Glendening. From lower Govans, Glendening 183 to 5. From the Flag House Courts projects, 98 to 18.

"Yeah," said Raynor, "but the way the Democrats figure, she ain't supposed to get 18 votes out of Flag House."

Then from white neighborhoods, and from racially mixed neighborhoods, one close vote after another. And from Highlandtown's 15th Precinct, 26th Ward, from the voting at School No. 237, directly across the street from the former home of the late city Councilman Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro, the unthinkable: Sauerbrey, a 207-190 winner.

"If Mimi's alive," Gene Raynor said now, "that would never happen. If you feel the earth move tonight, it's Mimi turning in his grave."

Across the country, Democrats almost everywhere were marching to their own graves. In the surge of conservative Republican winners, maybe Parris Glendening should feel relief merely to have survived at least until thousands of absentee ballots are counted to determine the next governor of Maryland.

But he outspent Sauerbrey by 6-1. Only months ago, she had single digits in the popularity polls. She had one issue, the 24 percent tax cut, which Glendening ridiculed but failed to replace with a defining issue of his own.

For many, the tax cut became a kind of shorthand. It stands for people who work to support themselves tiring of paying the freight for people who do not. It stands for the government thinking it can lend a hand to people who don't seem to be helping themselves. Some of this is simplistic, and some of it carries strains of truth, and some of it carries racial implications.

But it signals, in undeniable ways, a change in the landscape. As the hour ticked toward midnight Tuesday, Mayor Kurt Schmoke looked at the numbers and calculated the effect on this city, which depends more than anywhere in this state on help from Annapolis.

"If Sauerbrey wins," he said with some understatement, "it makes life a little difficult. Fifty percent of the state's poor live in Baltimore. We did a study, if she cuts taxes 24 percent, the only way we can keep our services at the current level is to raise property taxes by 22 percent. Obviously, we can't do that. We'd have a revolt. So we have to think about cutting services."

It's what the whole country seems to want, as long as it's somebody else's services. Parris Glendening carried three jurisdictions, Ellen Sauerbrey all the others in this state. Even if Sauerbrey loses, her message swept America.

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