'I'm a lonely brother' in the GOP

June 15, 1995|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

Republicans in Baltimore.

It's not an oxymoron, though it may seem that way in a city where Democrats outnumber their GOP counterparts by an 8-1 ratio.

But the party is heartened by stories of such people as Robert C. Gumbs, a black city resident who says he realized two years ago that as a Democrat, he was in the wrong political camp.

Mr. Gumbs, 41, says other African-Americans find it hard to believe he's abandoned a party they have been closely aligned with since the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. His wife remains an independent. And he is stumped when asked to name a black Republican friend.

"I'm a lonely brother," the North Baltimore resident admits.

He says his new party correctly focuses on economic issues, which he says are critical to African-Americans. Democratic policies, he says, have kept blacks dependent on the government.

City Republican leaders are counting on growing disillusionment among city residents, especially those who consider themselves to be moderate or conservative Democrats, to help them eat into the Democratic Party's margin in the city.

As staggering as the numbers are, GOP leaders say, they've improved. Some remember being outnumbered by a 10-1 ratio. And the party has made incremental gains recently, some through Democratic losses. The numbers for both parties were down in the city Board of Elections' most recent statistics because names of ineligible voters were removed from the rolls.

Democrats have lost more voters -- and lost them faster -- than Republicans. Democrats numbered 275,500 June 5, a decline of 2.8 percent since March. That compares with 32,319 Republicans, a 1.5 percent drop over the three months.

Dick Fairbanks, coordinator of voter registration for the city's GOP, believes there is "a trend running our way." He says victories for Republicans in the November congressional elections attracted young people.

"People feel we ought to be fielding a full slate of candidates, but that's hard to do," Mr. Fairbanks says, acknowledging that Republicans don't challenge for some city races. The last time the city elected a Republican mayor was 1963; the last time it elected a Republican City Council member was 1939.

He hopes to change this by increasing his party's numbers through voter registration drives, although Republicans seeking new voters often help the enemy.

"The Democrats laugh at us and thank us because they say we're registering more Democrats than Republicans," said David R. Blumberg, chairman of the city's GOP central committee. "But we don't care. Although they're growing in numbers, we're closing in on their ratio."

Sterling L. Louk had been a Democrat all his adult life when he crossed party lines.

Maybe Republicans can improve neighborhoods like his, he says. After decades of Democratic control, he complained, his Southwest Baltimore community has changed from a place where residents cleaned streets together when he was a child to a place where he keeps two dogs to ward off strangers.

"We could stand to have a lot more changes," Mr. Louk, 38, an unemployed laborer, says through the tattered screen door of his South Fulton Street rowhouse.

He changed his registration Aug. 15, becoming one of the 3,651 city residents to register as Republicans in the past 12 months.

But some other new party members did not join the GOP for such compelling reasons. Four say the registration was a mistake -- they meant to register as Democrats but checked the wrong box. And they plan to correct the error in time for the September primary election.

For Kimberly Lloyd, 19, the decision to register Republican was a family tradition. "I found 'Republican' on the form and I just checked it," says Ms. Lloyd, of Southwest Baltimore. She is puzzled by the names of GOP stars Robert Dole and Newt Gingrich. "I was never into that voting stuff."

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