Snowden's firebrand image cited in loss to Callahan But others blame low voter turnout, role of third candidate Jones

Racism said to be factor

Democratic primary for mayoral nominee decided by 155 votes

September 18, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

From beginning to end, the race for Democratic mayoral nominee in Annapolis was a tossup between two former allies who supported one another in city council chambers and campaigned for one another in previous elections.

Neither candidate even dared to make a prediction on primary day.

"I don't really know because I can't even venture a guess," said former Mayor Dennis M. Callahan, 56, voting in Eastport Tuesday morning. Across town on Forest Drive, his formidable opponent, Ward 5 Alderman Carl O. Snowden, smiled and said only, "It'll be close."

And it was. Callahan beat Snowden by 155 votes.

So what happened in the race between two men who had similar things going for them, such as name recognition, a base of

support in the city and the ability to raise money quickly? What accounted for Snowden's first political defeat in 12 years?

Some blame low voter turnout. Others say third candidate Sylvanus B. Jones drew too many votes. But many believe Snowden's defeat can be blamed on the 43-year-old consultant's inability to convince voters that he is no longer the militant civil rights firebrand he was in his younger days.

"What many people said to me was, 'We need to do everything possible to keep Carl Snowden from being mayor,' " said former Mayor Richard Hillman, days before the primary. "I don't understand that. In the Democratic race, I see only one qualified candidate, and that is Carl. Anyone who says differently isn't giving him a chance."

Snowden made a name for himself in the late 1960s when he led a student walkout in protest of discrimination and was in consequence expelled from Annapolis High School. Later, he led anti-discrimination and anti-war protests around the city.

Nowadays, Snowden wages battles with lawsuits and legislation. is the head of a civil rights consulting firm, which helps clients who say they have suffered racial, gender or religious discrimination. He also chairs the council's powerful economic and finance committees.

But his campaign this year was not helped by questions surrounding his residency in Ward 5 and the propriety of his performance as treasurer of the Dr. Martin Luther King Awards Dinner. He initially refused to disclose what the organization did with the thousands of dollars supporters donate every year.

Staunch Snowden supporters dismiss those issues as a factor in his loss. Many said Snowden lost because of racism.

"I think the majority of the town wants to see change, but there's still enough racism here to hurt Carl," said longtime supporter Tony Spencer, a city firefighter. "He's helped a lot of people who aren't minorities or women, but they still won't vote for him.

"That tells me that there's something wrong here," said Spencer, who conceded, "To win, he needs the black vote, the white vote, the women, the elderly and the children."

In the end, the black vote was the only bloc that came through for him. Snowden easily beat Callahan with 74 percent in Ward 3 and 60 percent in Ward 5, both historically black areas. He captured Ward 6 handily.

Callahan won wards 1, 2, 4, 7 and 8 -- although not by big margins.

Snowden refused to play the race card, insisting low voter turnout defeated him. About 33 percent of the city's 19,441 registered voters came out by day's end.

Snowden also doesn't criticize former federal worker Jones for running. To make up for lack of experience and little name recognition, Jones knocked on doors daily and plastered city lawns with "Vote Syl Jones Mayor" signs.

The first African-American to run for mayor of Annapolis in 1993, Jones was beaten by Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins in the primary. And while many people felt Jones would lose again this year, it was believed that he would split the black vote.

But Jones got only 16 percent of the vote in Ward 5 and 18 percent in Ward 3, where he lives. Still, the small percentage of votes Jones received in each ward -- mostly made up of anti-Snowden and anti-Callahan people -- was enough to make a difference.

"I think when you look at the returns, Dennis was helped by Sylvanus Jones acting as a spoiler," Snowden said. "If he hadn't been in the race, it would have been a different outcome."

But all that is in the past, said Snowden, one day after the primary as he planned a Florida vacation. This is not the end, he said, because whoever wants to be mayor will need strong support from the black community in the general election.

And who will black voters choose? "Whoever I recommend," Snowden says confidently.

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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