Schmoke won big time, but not because of race

September 15, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

I was in Chicago for a funeral and so I missed Kurt Schmoke's primary election victory on Tuesday night.

But I didn't bother to call anybody in Baltimore to see how the results were coming in.

I didn't need to. Early last week, Larry Gibson, Schmoke's campaign manager, had called to tell me that Schmoke was not only going to win "but it looks like it could go very big."

At the time, this was an outrageous prediction. The media polls were showing a "dead heat."

But Gibson, who said he had never made a prediction before, was willing to make a prediction now.

The agreement was that I would not quote him until after the election was over.

If Schmoke lost, Gibson would look like a fool.

And, if Schmoke won, well, Gibson would look like exactly what he is: one of the best political organizers in the country.

But when I got off the plane at BWI yesterday, I began to hear discussion about why Schmoke won.

"Well," some people were saying, "it was the black vote, of course."

And I had to wonder: Do they think there is some kind of special black gene that made black people reach up in the voting booth and vote for Schmoke?

When white people vote for white people, that rarely invites special criticism or even notice.

And when black people vote for white people, as they have decade after decade after decade, that, too, is considered normal.

But when black people have the audacity, the gall -- the very idea! -- of voting for a black man, well, that is something that must be explained if not condemned.

What if I said, however, that most black people did not vote for Schmoke because he is black?

What if I said that the vast majority of black people who voted for Schmoke did so because they thought he was the most qualified person running for mayor?

Some people, I know, simply will not believe it.

But let me advance an audacious theory:

Most of the people who voted for Kurt Schmoke on Tuesday did so not because of the color of his skin, but because of the content of his character.

There was more to his victory, of course.

As I have been writing for weeks, Mary Pat Clarke ran a lousy campaign. I wrote weeks ago that her negatives were shockingly high and that her real task was not to attack Schmoke, but to persuade people that she could do a better job.

She never did so.

Even as the media polls showed her narrowing the race, her negatives continued to mount. And you don't get elected if people don't like you and don't trust you.

A word about polls: One of the biggest problems with polls is not that they are sometimes wrong, but that they so profoundly affect political coverage.

L Coverage follows the polls and the polls shape the coverage.

This is not an insidious plot. Reporters are trained to go after facts, but they forget, in my opinion, that polls are not really facts at all.

They are, as I have written in the past, "voodoo news," stories that the media create by hiring pollsters to give them "information" that is then shaped into stories.

I think now may be the time, however, for the media to step back and ask themselves the big question: Why are we asking people two weeks before election day how they are going to vote on election day? Why don't we just all wait for election day?

But why, in the end, did Schmoke win? I do not think it was because of his race. Or his ads. Or his organization.

I think he won because a stunning majority of the voters thought he was an honest and compassionate person who had done much for his city and deserved another four years to do more.

Today, he is right to want to bring this city together after a rough and tumble primary. But he has nothing to apologize for.

*

This is my last column for The Sun. And so I am allowing Good Roger and Bad Roger to say their farewells:

Good Roger: We would like to say thank you to our loyal readers who have been so kind to us over the years. There are no better readers or better people anywhere.

Bad Roger: Let's steal all the office supplies we can and blow this pop stand.

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