High turnout of black voters gave Schmoke, Bell and Pratt their victories CITY PRIMARY ELECTION 1995

September 14, 1995|By This article was written and reported by Eric Siegel, Robert Guy Matthews and JoAnna Daemmrich.

Mobilized by both subtle and overt appeals to racial pride, an exceptionally large number of black voters turned out to cast their votes in Tuesday's Democratic primary and dramatically altered the political power structure in Baltimore.

The high turnout not only gave Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke his surprisingly large margin of victory, but it also provided the necessary boost likely to put African-Americans in the city's other two top offices.

With an estimated three out of five votes cast by African-Americans, Mr. Schmoke won a 20-point victory over rival Mary Pat Clarke; Lawrence A. Bell III captured the nomination for City Council president against a lone white candidate despite a splintered black vote, and political novice Joan M. Pratt prevailed against a veteran white legislator.

Also, for the first time in the city's history, African-Americans are likely to make up the majority of the 19-member council. Black control of the council was the goal of a 1991 redistricting plan, but the plan came too late to alter that year's election. Four years later, the first African-American candidate ever was nominated in Northeast Baltimore's 3rd District, and a second black representative was chosen in Southeast Baltimore's 6th District.

"It was a good day politically for the African-American community," said Rodney A. Orange, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Color People. "Low voter turnout has always hurt us in the past. The fact that we have come in stronger has helped all the black candidates across the board. As much as we try to appeal to the white vote, the black vote is what puts us in office."

Overall, 52 percent of registered Democrats turned out for Tuesday's primary -- the highest turnout in a dozen years. With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans in the city by a 9-1 ratio, victory in the Democratic primary is tantamount to election.

The turnout itself was the result of a combination of a yeoman effort by the Schmoke campaign and voters motivated by what was thought to be a close contest that pitted the city's first elected black mayor against a popular white two-term council president, according to analysts and officials of both campaigns.

The Schmoke campaign has long been known for its ability to get voters to the polls, but Tuesday it added a new wrinkle to FTC such proven techniques of knocking on doors on election day and busing senior citizens to the polls. It had hundreds of workers in cars equipped with mobile phones, checking in to campaign headquarters from the field to get the addresses of voters who needed a ride to the polls.

"This place looked like a cab service," Mr. Schmoke said yesterday of his campaign headquarters.

But many Schmoke supporters didn't need a hard sell to get them to vote. His campaign used black pride as a subtle theme that resonated with voters, from his signs, "Mayor Schmoke Makes Us Proud," to his colors of red, black and green, which are associated with black pride.

In addition, Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's chief political strategist, said: "The perception of the election being closer than it was probably helped us. A lot of people reacted negatively to The Sun's endorsement [of Mrs. Clarke] when it came out and that probably helped us."

Indeed, a poll the weekend before the election by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research Inc. for The Sun and WMAR-TV showed Mr. Schmoke leading Mrs. Clarke by just four percentage points.

J. Bradford Coker, president of Mason-Dixon, said his poll assumed that blacks would make up 55 percent of those who voted. The higher turnout made the percentage of black voters more like 60 percent, he said. Baltimore's population is about 63 percent black.

"The most difficult thing about polling in this election was trying to figure out what the turnout would be," he said.

An analysis by The Sun of voting in selected precincts in black and white neighborhoods showed that Mr. Schmoke did better among white voters than Mrs. Clarke did among black voters. To have a chance at winning the election, Mrs. Clarke had to have a larger crossover vote than Mr. Schmoke.

In precincts in the predominantely white neighborhoods of Mount Washington, Roland Park and Tuscany-Canterbury, the North Baltimore section where the council president lives, Mr. Schmoke got between 22 and 30 percent of the vote. But in precincts in the predominantely black neighborhoods of Clifton-Berea, Forest Park and Rosemont, Mrs. Clarke got under 10 percent of the vote.

Cheryl Benton, Mrs. Clarke's chief campaign strategist, said television ads by the Schmoke campaign that questioned the council president's leadership abilities and qualifications hurt her among white voters.

"His commercials were devastating," she said. "He was going after the white vote that we had painfully won over."

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