Sarajevo on the Patapsco

September 02, 1995|By DANIEL BERGER

Since no one can surmount the problems facing American cities, presumably, we are invited as consolation to vote our prejudice in the city Democratic primary.

The driving force for this comes from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who enjoys the best-funded campaign, devoted almost entirely to black consciousness and black male pride.

Nothing in his years in office as a serious and fair (if distant) servant of all people prepared us for this. It must come from somewhere else.

Mr. Schmoke's campaign mentor, Larry Gibson, has never let him down. And the astute Mr. Gibson must have concluded that a reminder of black pride would be the best -- or perhaps only -- way for his man to hang on to office.

Any other approach might just remind voters of their disappointment. The only way is the way to go.

Hence the campaign literature in African nationalist colors, the ''pride'' commercials of actor Charles Dutton and the glossy book of clippings.

This is the positive side of racism. No white-bashing, just pride in one's own. Euro-American candidates have used the light blue of Greece or Israel or tricolor of Ireland without opprobrium. Why can't an African-American do likewise?

Mary Pat Clarke is a white office-holder who has often appealed to voters on the basis of gender, never on race. She often casts herself as the champion of all females and black males together.

And she does nothing now to pander to a ''white'' vote, much of which never supported her in the past. Yet her campaign counts on taking it all, which the Schmoke strategy virtually concedes to her.

The real contest is in visceral appeals to black women voters. That is the center, the disputed turf. If you are not a black female, your vote is taken for granted by one campaign and written off by the other.

Yet Mr. Schmoke and Mrs. Clarke have both been exemplary in cooperating across race and gender barriers all their careers. And neither wants the message for self to carry over to other offices.

Urging pride in a black male role model may sound like a pitch for Carl Stokes or Lawrence Bell for City Council president. No such thing. The Schmoke-Gibson candidate for that office is Vera Hall, black female, but the mayor would probably also be comfortable with Joseph DiBlasi, white male.

Mrs. Clarke's appeal to female solidarity excludes Mrs. Hall. She favors Mr. Bell, with Mr. Stokes acceptable. And just because she counts on white votes does not mean she wants Mr. DiBlasi to get them.

The race for comptroller pits veteran Julian Lapides, who is white, male and 60-something, against newcomer Joan Pratt, who is black, female and 40-something. Voters may be guided by bias in gender, generation and genealogy, with two out of three taking it.

The consciousness raised by Mr. Schmoke can only help Mr. DiBlasi against three blacks, and Ms. Pratt against low name recognition.

Negative reaction to it on the part of whites can only help Mrs. Clarke, Mr. DiBlasi and Mr. Lapides.

If I read polls correctly, Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Lapides started out way ahead but Mrs. Clarke and Ms. Pratt have developed formidable momentum. The City Council presidency race is a four-way toss-up, meaning Mr. DiBlasi does not as yet enjoy ''the white vote'' or he would be way out front. So anything might happen. The possibility of outcomes is stupefying. Baltimore could wind up with three women in the three top offices. Or three men. Or three whites. Or three blacks.

Many folks would be outraged at any of the above. Fortunately, a mono-gender victory must be biracial; and a mono-racial victory bisexual. Maybe we will get more choices in '99.

A Schmoke-Hall-Pratt victory would be a ringing endorsement of Mr. Schmoke's record, removing checks and balances for his third term. (He supports Mrs. Hall and helped Ms. Pratt into the race.)

Any expectation of sisterhood ignores the bitterness between Council President Clarke and former Comptroller Jacqueline McLean last term, and the whistle-blowing role of Mrs. Clarke in bringing down Mrs. McLean, whose blatant corruption no male descried.

Nothing in my analysis deals with legitimate election issues or the comparative merits of candidates. In that I am being faithful to the campaign.

We learn naught here about good government or politics, much about the human comedy. How civil it all is, compared to Bosnia.

Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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