A move beyond race in Annapolis primary

Comment

September 28, 1997|By Brian Sullam

EVEN THOUGH Carl O. Snowden and Sylvanus B. Jones did not win the Democratic nomination for Annapolis mayor, this election marks the first time in the city when a black candidate came very close to winning.

In fact, the city's black candidates received more votes, collectively, than did Dennis M. Callahan, the victorious candidate.

For Annapolis, this is a watershed. Voters apparently are no longer just voting their race. They are factoring in many other qualifications as they cast their ballots.

Although blacks make up at least one-third of the population in Maryland's state capital, they have never come close to winning a city-wide election.

Primary lessons

This month's primary showed two things: First, Mr. Snowden came close to winning the nomination he had longed for since he graduated high school. Second, a black politician who can appeal to whites in the city is quite capable of getting elected mayor.

While Mr. Callahan received 1,567 votes, Mr. Snowden and Mr. Jones together received 2,088 -- or 57 percent of the votes cast.

Close observers of local elections believe voters generally don't vote for a candidate as much as against his or her opponent.

If that rule of thumb holds in Annapolis, then Mr. Jones clearly siphoned enough of the anti-Callahan votes from Mr. Snowden, particularly in Wards 1, 2 and 8, to make the difference in the race.

Although Mr. Snowden and Mr. Jones together nearly matched Mr. Callahan's totals in those three predominantly white wards, the two black candidates evenly split the votes that Mr. Callahan did not receive.

In hindsight, it appears Ward 1, which covers downtown and the historic district, and Ward 2, which covers West Annapolis and Admiral Heights, were the pivotal wards for Mr. Snowden.

To win the nomination, he had to grab the lion's share of the anti-Callahan vote. In hindsight, it appears that Mr. Jones played the spoiler in those wards.

Had Mr. Snowden attracted the "anti-Callahan" votes in Wards 1 and 2, he might be representing the Democratic Party in the general election Nov. 4.

Ward 8, which takes in Eastport, New Point and Severn neighborhoods, was the only ward where Mr. Callahan drew more votes than Mr. Jones and Mr. Snowden combined.

In the other five wards, Mr. Snowden received substantial amounts of support. In Wards 3 through 7, Mr. Snowden drew 159 more votes than Mr. Callahan.

As the chart below shows, Mr. Snowden did well against Mr. Jones in Wards 3 through 8. He outpolled Mr. Jones by a 5-to-1 margin in Ward 5, which Mr. Snowden has represented for three terms on the City Council. Substantial numbers of white residents voted for black politicians.

By the same token, it must be emphasized that Mr. Callahan did very well among minority voters in Wards 3 and 5. A former Annapolis mayor who is seen as a friend of the black community, Mr. Callahan received one-third of the votes cast in those two wards, indicating that white candidates can attract black votes.

'Racist town'?

Perhaps this primary election will put to rest the notion that Annapolis is a "racist town" where people vote along racial lines.

These election results indicate that Annapolis voters are more sophisticated than they are given credit for. They apparently were well-informed about the candidates and were able to knowledgeably cast their votes.

One unfortunate reality is that not enough voters care to participate. Fewer than half of the registered Democrats bothered to cast ballots.

But the fact remains that "what might have been" does not count in an election. Mr. Callahan received more votes than any other candidate who ran in the Democratic primary. Whether he can beat the GOP nominee, Alderman Dean L. Johnson, is open to speculation, which we'll hear a great deal of in the next five weeks.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Democratic votes in Annapolis

........... D.Callahan ... S.Jones ... C.Snowden ... Jones & Snowden

Ward 1 .... 239 .......... 127 ....... 137 ......... +25

Ward 2 .... 271 .......... 128 ....... 155 ......... +12

Ward 3 .... 105 .......... 74 ........ 294 ......... +263

Ward 4 .... 198 .......... 79 ........ 127 ......... +8

Ward 5 .... 115 .......... 50 ........ 250 ......... +185

Ward 6 .... 164 .......... 49 ........ 181 ......... +66

Ward 7 .... 144 .......... 48 ........ 103 ......... +7

Ward 8 .... 291 .......... 124 ....... 130 ......... -37

Absentees . 40 ........... 10 ........ 22 .......... -8

Total ..... 1,567 ........ 689 ....... 1,399 ....... +521

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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